Bernard Hill, Star of ‘Titanic’ and ‘Lord of the Rings,’ Dies at 79

The British actor played the Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith, and Rohan’s troubled but valiant king, Théoden

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Bernard Hill as King Theoden in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

Bernard Hill, star of “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings,” has died at the age of 79, according to his agent, Lou Coulson.

Born in Blackley and a graduate of the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama, Hill got his big breakthrough in 1980 with the BBC television play “The Black Stuff,” which was so acclaimed that it led to a sequel miniseries “Boys From the Blackstuff” two years later.

In “Blackstuff,” Hill plays Yosser Hughes, a working class resident of Liverpool whose life completely crumbles over the course of the series with little help from England’s disintegrating social safety net. Hill’s performance was defined by the melancholy catchphrase “gizza job,” which he would regularly say as he tried and failed to find employment. That line would break into pop culture as it was often chanted at protests against Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.

Hill got his first big role in film in a bit role in the 1982 Best Picture winner “Gandhi,” but his breakthrough came two years later with Roger Donaldson’s “The Bounty,” in which he starred alongside the likes of Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Over the next decade, most of Hill’s roles came in television, most prominently as John Lennon in the biopic TV series “A Journey in the Life.” But in 1997, Hill got the first of his two biggest roles in cinema in James Cameron’s “Titanic,” playing the doomed ship’s captain Edward Smith, who died alongside approximately 1,500 passengers in the infamous maritime disaster.

Then, five years later, Hill played Théoden, King of Rohan, in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” In the two films, Hill won over Tolkien fans as an aging king filled with doubt that he can protect his people from the merciless forces of Sauron, but who valiantly gives his life on the battlefield.

Post-“LOTR,” Hill’s roles included a voice role in the 2012 Laika animated film “ParaNorman” and as Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk in the 2015 BBC series “Wolf Hall” about the life of Oliver Cromwell. His final role came in season 2 of the BBC police drama “The Responder” starring Martin Freeman, which is set to begin airing this week.

Hill is survived by his wife, Marianna, and their son, Gabriel.

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