On this day in 1981, the actor William Holden, who starred in such movies as Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17 and Network, dies at the age of 63 in his Santa Monica, California home. The Academy Award-winning actor reportedly died after falling and hitting his head; his body was found several days later.
Holden was born William Franklin Beedle on April 17, 1918, in O’Fallon, Illinois, and raised in Southern California. He made his feature film debut in 1938’s Prison Farm and the following year starred in Golden Boy with Barbara Stanwyck. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Air Force and acted in training films. In 1950, Holden co-starred with Gloria Swanson in director Billy Wilder’s now-classic film noir Sunset Boulevard, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and later added to the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movies of the 20th century. Holden received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Joe Gillis, a broke screenwriter who gets ensnared in the world of the aging silent-screen star Norma Desmond (Swanson). Sunset Boulevard contains the now-famous line, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Holden collected his first Academy Award in the Best Actor category for 1953’s Stalag 17, also helmed by Wilder. Holden played a bitter American soldier at a World War II German POW camp who is suspected of being a spy. During the 1950s, Holden also appeared in such hit films as Born Yesterday (1950), with Judy Holliday; Sabrina (1954) with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart; Executive Suite (1954), with Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March and June Allyson; The Country Girl (1954), with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly; The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), with Kelly, March and Mickey Rooney; Picnic (1955), with Kim Novak; Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), with Jennifer Jones, and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), with Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins.
Later in his career, Holden appeared in such movies as The Wild Bunch (1969), a Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, and The Towering Inferno (1974), with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Holden received his third Best Actor Oscar nomination for director Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), a satire about network television that includes the now-iconic line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Off camera, Holden was friends with Ronald Reagan and served as best man at his 1952 wedding to Nancy Davis. Holden’s final film was director Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. (1981), a satire about Hollywood and the movie business.