His first starring role was in 1939's Golden Boy, in which he played a boxer who wants to be a violinist. His career took off after he returned from World War II, as he played a series of roles that mixed his good looks and cynical detachment: the down at the heels screenwriter in Sunset Boulevard, the prisoner of war entrepreneur in Stalag 17, the dangerous wanderer in Picnic and the ill-fated prisoner in The Bridge on the River Kwai. He also played a number of sunnier parts in light comedy with just as much success, such as the tutor in Born Yesterday and Humphrey Bogart's younger brother in Sabrina.
Holden also starred in more than his share of forgettable movies, forced by the studios that held his contract to keep him working. Holden had for many years suffered from alcoholism and severe depression. By the early 1960s he appeared to be sleepwalking through many of his roles.
That led in turn to the last phase of his career, beginning with The Wild Bunch and ending with Network, in which Holden played the older version of the character he had perfected in the 1950s, now more jaded and aware of his own mortality. His last movie was S.O.B..
Holden was married to Brenda Marshall from 1941 to 1971, when they divorced. The couple had two sons, and he adopted the daughter of his wife's first marriage. Holden spent much of his time owning and managing an animal preserve in Africa. He died of a fall at his home in Santa Monica, California in 1981 (his body was found on 16 November, but forensic evidence suggested he had died on 12 November). Holden had been heavily intoxicated and slipped on a rug in his apartment gashing his head on a table. He bled to death from this injury.
Holden was cremated; his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
William Holden Facts
|William Franklin Beedle Jr.
|April 17, 1918
|O'Fallon, Illinois, USA
|Date of death
|October 16, 1981 (age 63)
|5' 11" (1m80) How tall is William Holden compared to you?
|1954 Academy Awards: Best Actor (for Stalag 17)
|The Towering Inferno
|Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
|Streets of Laredo
|The Bridge on the River Kwai