December 31: Happy Birthday Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley


Our two headliners today will both be seen in the upcoming movie Collide, so it was not hard to find a few photo headers pairing them out there.  They are also both knights, and both are winners of the Oscar for Best Actor.

Sir Anthony Hopkins turns 79 today.  He was influenced to enter acting by his fellow Welshman, Richard Burton.  Sir Laurence Olivier invited him to join the Royal National Theatre in the mid-sixties, and his first major film role was as Prince Richard (later King Richard I) in The Lion in Winter.

During the 1970s and ’80s he appeared in a wide variety of films, including Young Winston (as David Lloyd George), A Bridge Too Far, The Elephant Man, and The Bounty (as William Bligh).  He also won a pair of Emmys, both for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.  However, it was in a 1991 film that he played his best-known role for the first time:

Hopkins won Best Actor for playing Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, and reprised the role twice, in Hannibal and Red Dragon.  During the past 25 years, he has been nominated for three additional Oscars.  The first was for the Merchant-Ivory film The Remains of the Day; the other two were for portraying men who were Presidents of the US.  He was nominated for Best Actor as the title character in Nixon, and for Best Supporting Actor as John Quincy Adams in Amistad.  His recent work, in addition to the previously mentioned Collide, includes playing Odin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Robert Ford on Westworld.

Sir Ben Kingsley is 73 today.  The Anglo-Indian actor spent most of the first 15 years of his career on stage; his roles included Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.  While Hopkins is most famous for playing a cannibalistic psychiatrist, Kingsley’s first and most famous film role was for playing a man who some people would regard as close to a modern-day saint:

Kingsley’s performance in the title role of Gandhi brought him the Oscar for Best Actor.  He has received three subsequent Oscar nominations, for Bugsy, Sexy Beast, and House of Sand and Fog.  A few of his other notable films have included Without a Clue, Schindler’s List, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Shutter Island, and Hugo.  Like Hopkins, he has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Mandarin in Iron Man 3.  He voiced Bagheera in this year’s The Jungle Book, and will provide the voice of General Woundwort in an upcoming animated miniseries adaptation of Richard Adams’s Watership Down.

WTHH subject Val Kilmer turns 57 today.  After a little over a decade, starting in the mid-1980s, as a major actor, Kilmer’s star faded badly.  His WTHH article and the comment thread will give you all the details.  James Remar, who turns 63, first became known for several of Walter Hill’s films (The Warriors, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs.), and has had a long run as a character and voice actor.  He recently appeared on MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, adapted from the novels by Terry Brooks.  Stage and screen actress Bebe Neuwirth, who celebrates her 58th, has a pair of Tonys to her name, for revivals of the musicals Sweet Charity and Chicago, and a pair of Emmys, for playing Dr. Lilith Sternin on Cheers.  Comedian Michael McDonald, who is turning 52, is known for his ten-season run in the cast of MADtvGong Li, who celebrates her 51st, is known for many films with Zhang Yimou, such as Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern; she has appeared in Hollywood films such as Hannibal Rising and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.

Tim Matheson, who played Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House, has done a lot of TV directing and is a two-time Emmy nominee as Vice President John Hoynes on The West Wing.  He is 69 today.  Director Taylor Hackford, who is 72, won an Oscar for his short film Teenage Father, and has directed features like An Officer and a Gentleman and RayVernon Wells, who played a string of villainous henchmen in the 1980s, first in The Road Warrior, then in American films like Commando and Innerspace, is 71 today.    English actress Sarah Miles, who is turning 75, was an Oscar nominee for Ryan’s Daughter and is also known for films like Blowup and Hope and Glory.  Nicaraguan-born actress Barbara Carrera, who is 71, will be remembered by James Bond fans for playing the assassin Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again.

Irish actress Elaine Cassidy, who is celebrating her 37th, has starred in films like Atom Egoyan’s Felicia’s Journey and played the lead on CBS’s Harper’s Island; she currently stars on the British series No OffenceErich Bergen, who starred as Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys and is now featured on Madam Secretary, turns 31 today.  Gymnast Gabby Douglas, who is 21 today, won gold medals in the team and individual all-around events at the 2012 Olympics, and returned to win a second team gold in 2016.

Nicholas Sparks, who is 51 today, is the author of nearly 20 novels, generally romantic dramas of some kind, many of which—Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Dear John, etc.—have been adapted into feature films.  Connie Willis, who celebrates her 71st, is a fantasy/science fiction writer who has won eleven Hugo and seven Nebula awards for her novels and stories.  Among her best-known books are Doomsday Book, and the two-volume novel Blackout and All ClearEllen Datlow, who is 67 today, is also a multiple Hugo winner, as an editor of the annual anthologies The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Best Horror of the Year.

Our top music birthday today was known, at the height of his fame, for his catchphrase “far out!” John Denver (1943-1997) was a little bit country, a little bit folk, and a little bit rock, but he was one of the most popular singers of the 1970s.  He had three #1 albums (two studio, one live), and a long string of charted hits, eight of which reached the Top 10 and one of which is an official state song of Colorado:

Composer Jule Styne (1905-1994) wrote popular songs, including “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” which is a tad popular at this time of the year, he wrote Oscar-nominated songs for film, but he was best known for the music for hit Broadway Musicals like High Button Shoes, Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, and the Tony-winning Hallelujah, Baby!  Andy Summers, who turns 74 today, is best known as the guitarist for The Police, with whom he won a pair of Grammys for Best Bock Instrumental Performance; Rolling Stone included him among the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Donna Summer (1948-2012) was one of the stars of the disco era, a five-time Grammy winner known for hits like “Love to Love You Baby” and a cover of Cheesetastic Classic “MacArthur Park” that reached #1.  Odetta (1930-2008) was a folk singer who was known as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.”  Time included her version of “Take This Hammer” in their ranking of the 100 Greatest Popular Songs since they began publishing.

Rex Allen (1920-1999) was one of the last of the singing cowboys who starred in innumerable B-westerns before that subgenre died out because of competition from television.  Orry George Kelly, known professionally as Orry-Kelly (1897-1964) was a three-time Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, for An American in Paris, Cole Porter’s Les Girls, and Some Like it Hot; before that, he was Warner Brothers’ chief costume designer for over a decade.

Historical figures born today include a pair of American generals named George.  George C. Marshall (1880-1959) was Chief of Staff of the US Army in World War 2, and after the war, as Secretary of State, was the architect of the Marshall Plan for the economic rebuilding of Europe.  George G. Meade (1815-1872) served with the Union Army of the Potomac during the US Civil War, rising from command of a brigade to the commander of the whole army, which he commanded at the famous Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Charles Cornwalls, the 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738-1805), was the British general who surrendered to the Americans and French at Yorktown in the American Revolution; he later served as Governor-General of India.  Charles Edward Stewart (1720-1788), often referred to as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the Stuart claimant to the throne of England who lead the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the last serious attempt by the Stuarts to regain the throne.  Bonnie Prince Charlie and the “Forty-Five” rebellion are the subject of enough books, stories and songs to fill a good-sized library.

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on December 31, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley are both highly regarded actors. And not without good reason. But both of them have been known to get hammy. Does that detract from their great performances? Not for me. But their involvement in a project is by no means a seal of quality.

    We’ve said a lot about Val Kilmer here. I personally have had a lot of fun at his expense. I seriously hope he is healthy. I’ve had concerns about him for the last year or so since he had his throat surgery. One of my goals for 2017 is to update his WTHH article.

    James Remar is probably best known for The Warriors, but also well known for dropping out of Aliens. Bebe Neuwirth I know from Cheers, obviously. I was also aware she had an impressive stage career.

    Tim Matheson got the part in Animal House that was written for Chevy Chase. They later ended up appearing in Fletch together. Matheson is one of those guys who never became really famous, but has done a lot of good work.

    My mom, wife and mother-in-law all exchange Nicholas Sparks books. As a kid, it seemed like the music of John Denver was everywhere. Maybe that was because he performed with The Muppets. As a disco fan, I have a lot of fondness for Donna Summer.

    Happy New Year, everyone. Looking forward to a fresh start in 2017!


  2. The first film I viewed Anthony Hopkins in was 1978’s “Magic” (I recommend it). I think he’s had an interesting career.
    Ben Kingsley, I’ve seen him in more films than I have Hopkins, and even though I find “Gandhi” a bit of a bore, he’s excellent in it. I loved him in “Bugsy” , “Dave”, and “The House of Sand and Fog” (which I’ve already mentioned for Jennifer Connelly’s birthday). I think Lebeau’s right though when it comes to both Hopkins and Kingsley, that just because these two fabulous performers are in a film doesn’t make it a winner (I think “Freejack” and “Lucky Number Slevin” are good examples, although I myself find the films reasonably acceptable).
    Val Kilmer, yeah, I’ve like a lot of his work, including his poetry.
    I’m all about James Remar: Ajax in “The Warriors”, the psycho in “48 hrs.”, a cop in the 1986’s “Quiet Cool” (like it; good theme song), and of course Dexter’s ghost dad in “Dexter”.
    Babe Neuwirth I’m familiar with from “Cheers” and “Frazier”, and I’ve seen her here and there in other projects. I think she’s good.
    Taylor Hackford, I like some of his films: “Against All Odds”, “White Knights” (Lionel Ritchie!), “Dolores Claiborne” “Ray”, and even the overshadowed “Proof of Life”.
    Tim Matheson, I thought he’d be more of a presence. Nevertheless, I liked him in “Animal House” and “Fletch”.
    Barbara Carrera, I thought she made a fine femme fatale.
    My ex-wife was big into Nicholas Sparks’ books; I read “The Notebook” on a plane, and thought it was good.
    I like “Hot Stuff” from Donna Summer, it isn’t Friday, but she’s still a disco queen.
    John Denver, I know him best from 1977’s “Oh God!”, but I’m aware of “Rocky mountain High” (Denver singing about Denver? Why not, why not indeed).


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