An elderly man with grey hair and wearing a jacket and open-neck shirt, smiles at the camera.

American actor Philip Baker Hall of Seinfeld and Modern Family fame dies at 90, ‘surrounded by loved ones’

Philip Baker Hall, the prolific film and theater actor who starred in early Paul Thomas Anderson films and memorably tracked down a long-awaited Seinfeld library book, has died. He was 90 years old.

Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, said Monday he died surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California on Sunday.

She said Mr Hall was fine until a few weeks earlier and spent his last days in a warm spirit, reflecting on his life.

“His voice at the end was still going strong,” Ms. Wolfle Hall said. Her husband, she added, never stopped acting.

Hall’s death was announced by Los Angeles Times sportswriter Sam Farmer.

“My neighbor, friend and one of the wisest, most talented and kindest people I have ever met, Philip Baker Hall passed away peacefully last night,” Farmer wrote on Twitter.


Over the course of a half-century career, Hall was an ubiquitous puppy-dog face whose gloomy, weary appearance could mask a soaring intensity and humble sensibility. His range was wide, but Hall, who had a natural gravity, often played men in suits, trench coats and lab coats.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hall initially focused more on acting than television and film after moving to Los Angeles in 1975.

That changed when he was filming a PBS program in 1992. Hall then met a production assistant in his early twenties named Paul Thomas Anderson. The two hung out, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee between scenes.

Anderson, believing Hall hadn’t gotten his due in the film, asked him to watch a script he had written for a 20-minute short titled Cigarettes & Coffee.

“I’m reading this script, and I really had a hard time believing this kid wrote this script,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012.

“I mean, it was so brilliant, resonating with nuances all over, like a playwright.

Admittedly, as a film, I had never really seen anything like it. It was breathtaking.”

After the US$20,000 (about $29,000) short premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Anderson extended it to his feature debut, 1997’s Hard Eight, which catapulted Hall’s career.

Anderson would reprise Hall as adult film mogul Floyd Gondolli who warns porn producer Burt Reynolds about the future of the industry in Boogie Nights.

In Anderson’s Magnolia, Hall played Jimmy Gator, the host of a children’s game show.

“I have a particular fascination with character actors, with a desire to cast them as lead actors,” Anderson told the Los Angeles Times in 1998.


To many, Hall was instantly recognizable for one of Seinfeld’s funniest appearances.

In 1991, for the sitcom’s 22nd episode, Hall played Lt. Joe Bookman, the library investigator who comes after Seinfeld for a years-overdue copy of Tropic of Cancer.

Hall played it like a tough noir sleuth, telling Seinfeld, “Well, I’ve got a flash for you, Joy-boy: the party’s over.”

Hall was brought back for the Seinfeld finale and by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. David once said that no other actor ever made him laugh more than Hall.

Among Hall’s many other credits were Michael Mann’s The Insider, as 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, and Lars von Trier’s Dogville.

Hall has also appeared on Say Anything, The Truman Show, The Talented Mr Ripley, Zodiac, Argo and Rush Hour. He played neighbor Walt Kleezak in Modern Family, and his last performance was in the 2020 series Messiah.

Hall, who was married to Dianne Lewis for three years in the early 1970s, is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren and brother.


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