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Titanic and Lord of the Rings star Bernard Hill dies at 79

The actor shot to fame in TV show Boys from the Blackstuff

Diane Shipley
Senior Online Writer
May 5, 2024
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Bernard Hill, who played Captain Edward Smith in the Oscar-winning 1997 movie Titanic, has died. 

The actor was 79 when he passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to his agent. His family is expected to make a statement addressing the sad news later. 

As well as Titanic, the star was also known for appearing in the Lord of the Rings movies, where he played King Theoden in the much-loved trilogy. 

Bernard Hill attends Manchester Comic Con in 2022 © Getty
The actor in 2022

He is survived by his wife, Marianna Hill, a former actress, with whom he lived in Suffolk, and their son Gabriel. 

The father-of-one was also a small screen star of British television in the 1980s, appearing in 1982's BBC series Boys from the Blackstuff, which was created by legendary playwright Alan Bleasdale. 

He was set to return to British TV alongside Martin Freeman on Sunday evening, in BBC One drama series The Responder. 

Born Born in Blackley, Lancashire, he was from a coal mining family but attended acting school in Manchester alongside Withnail and I star Richard Griffiths.

Bernard Hill as Captain Edward James Smith in Titanic© CBS Photo Archive
Bernard Hill as Captain Edward James Smith

Following a series of bit parts, he appeared in I, Claudius and Ghandi and played the Duke of York in the BBC adaptation of Henry VI. He's perhaps best known for his Titanic role, however. 

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing in a scene from the film 'Titanic', 1997. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)© Getty
Titanic was a box office smash

Speaking just a couple of years ago, Bernard reflected on his experience filming the mega-hit, which also starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead roles of doomed lovers Rose and Jack, and shared how well the cast got along.

"I don't think anybody realised just how big it was going to be," the star said of the film, which has since gone on to gross more than two billion dollars. 

The movie "Titanic", written and directed by James Cameron. Seen here from left, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Kate Winslet as Rose. Initial USA theatrical wide release December 19, 1997. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures© Getty
Leo and Kate had incredible chemistry

Speaking to Metro newspaper on the occasion of Titanic's 25th anniversary, the actor admitted: "It didn't seem iconic from my point of view. 

"I know others on the cast don't see it like that. It was kind of a group thing. A small-budget film, everybody really liked each other and there was no strain. It was quite intimate."

Bernard Hill attends the world premiere of Titanic 3D at The Royal Albert Hall on March 27, 2012 © Getty
At the the world premiere of Titanic 3D

Giving some insight into director James Cameron's rigorous way of working, Bernard commented: "He always wants to work through a scene with an actor and give them opportunities to do it again, and work it out, to work with them on the different routes through a scene.

"I thought about it quite a lot really, if everybody's working to the top of their potential, as James Cameron does every day, you're fine. Wherever that leaves you, it's still fine. But it's people who don’t actually reach for their full potential and he can't bear it… He got very bored with people who wouldn't or couldn't do it."

titanic 1© Rex
Bernard didn't realise Titanic would be such a hit

While many performers would no doubt have been excited to act opposite Kate and Leo, the star revealed that he was most keen to work with David Warner, who played Spicer Lovejoy, Caledon Hockley’s personal valet and bodyguard, in Titanic.

"The person I was looking forward to meeting was David Warner," Bernard said of the Shakespearean actor, who died earlier this year. 

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