Anthony Holden, a multilingual and prolific British author, journalist and poker player who achieved accidental fame as a royal biographer and critic of the monarchy, but who also wrote books about Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier and Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart. Happy, he died in October. .7 At his home in London. He was 76 years old.
The cause was a brain tumor, his son Ben said.
Mr. Holden was writing the gossipy “Atticus” column – a mix of politics and celebrity – for The Sunday Times in London when, in 1977, he was sent to cover Prince Charles’ visit to Canada to open the Calgary Stampede, a rodeo I went. As “Atticus”, he wrote about Brigitte Bardot and Rudolf Nureyev, Went to China with Margaret Thatcher and being hit over the head with a rolled-up copy of Playboy magazine by Frank Sinatra (apparently in a sign of affection, not to bash the press).
The Prince’s workload was kind of redundant, but Mr Holden made the most of it, although the most interesting thing Prince Charles said to him was: “Are you married? Fun, isn’t it?”
The column Mr. Holden wrote about the royal family pleased both Queen Elizabeth II and her son, now King Charles III, and Mr. Holden soon received a book deal to write a biography of Charles. Although he thought the subject matter boring, the advance of £15,000 was too large to turn down.
When “Prince Charles: A Biography” was published in 1979, it was reviewed mostly charitable, even based on its subject matter. Prince Charles told Mr. Holden that he liked the fact that he portrayed a life that “wasn’t all wine and roses.”
Mr. Holden returned to his life as a journalist, working as Washington correspondent for The Observer, for a time as features editor for The Times of London and as a freelancer for other papers. Worked in. Yet the royal heartbeat troubled him.
News programs always called on him to comment on royal affairs, American journalists sought him out trying to understand that uniquely British institution, and publishing executives kept offering him royalty-themed book deals, with titles like “The Late Royal Highness :The Prince and Princess of Wales” (1981), “A Week in the Life of the Royal Family” (1983) and “Anthony Holden’s Royal Quiz” (1983).
Then, in the late 1980s, his publisher asked him to write a second biography of the prince, and what he delivered was a chilling portrait of the marriage of Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. In the book, titled simply “Charles” and published in 1988, Mr. Holden wrote that the prince “no longer understands her – nor, it seems, does he much like her,” and that it seemed that The princess is bored with him. (The book was serialized in The Sunday Times.) Buckingham Palace condemned Mr. Holden in a statement, sparking a tabloid frenzy.
One headline read, “A distorted portrait of the prince”, quoting a royal aide who said the book was “fiction from beginning to end”. A writer in The Express called Mr Holden “Britain’s most reprehensible man”. And as Mr. Holden recalled in a 2021 memoir, “Based on a True Story: A Writer’s Life,” the Daily Mail published a hit article announcing that he had married his first wife, a “classy pianist” for a “white American”. Bimbo”; living the high life in a mansion on the Thames; And had slandered the prince to pay off his gambling debt.
What was not reported, as Mr. Holden recalls, was that his home and car were broken into more than once, and that his research materials about Prince Charles were stolen.
Mr. Holden became so irritated by the pile-on that he gathered all his negative tabloid clippings and consulted a defamation lawyer about suing the Prince.
“Mr. Holden,” said the lawyer, as Mr. Holden recalled, “you have a prima facie case for defamation against the Prince of Wales. But I would strongly advise you not to pursue this matter further.” They were told that they would not win in the court of public opinion.
However, the lawyer gave Mr. Holden permission to include his name, Peter Carter-Ruck, as well as their exchange in a future memoir. Which he did decades later.
Anthony Ivan Holden was born on May 22, 1947, in Southport, Lancashire, on the northwest coast of England, to John and Margaret (Sharp) Holden. His father owned a sports equipment shop. His mother worked as a secretary for his father, evan sharpAn Olympic soccer star turned sports writer.
Anthony attended two British boarding schools, Tredddur House, he wrote, a horrific experience that included beatings and other humiliations, and Oundle School, which was less terrifying. He studied English language and literature at Merton College, Oxford; Edited the student magazine Isis there; and translated ancient Greek works for Oxford University Press.
After university, he was hired as a trainee reporter by a regional newspaper chain. Covering police and general shootings, he reported on the trial of notorious and prolific poisoner Graham Young. His coverage led to his first book, “The St. Albans Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Graham Young”, published in 1974. In total, he wrote about 40 books.
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called Mr. Holden’s biography “William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius” in 2000 as “easily readable” (this was not a compliment). But some reviewers found his “Laurence Olivier” (1988) more revealing than the actor’s own memoirs. Tchaikovsky was another of his subjects.
Mr. Holden also wrote about more obscure topics. In addition to the story he wrote on Da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart, he also wrote a biography of the Dickens-era poet Leigh Hunt. He also worked on Hollywood in “Behind the Oscars: The Secret History of the Academy Awards” (1993).
The book led New York Times book critic Christopher Lehman-Haupt to wonder why Mr. Holden had devoted nearly 700 pages to this effort.
“Since, as Mr. Holden is the first to admit, the Oscars themselves are trivial,” Mr. Lehmann-Haupt wrote in his review, “the details about the Oscars represent an order of common sense, the contemplation of which No rational mind can hope to survive unbroken.”
Asked why he took on the project, Mr. Holden said he received a large advance and was happy spending time in Los Angeles.
More intriguingly, he translated operas into English with his first wife, Amanda (Warren) Holden, a pianist, librettist, and multilingual opera translator. The couple divorced in 1988.
In addition to his son, Ben, Mr. Holden is survived by his sons, Sam and Joe; his stepchildren, Ben and Sienna Colgrave; four grandchildren; and a brother, Robin Holden. He married Cynthia Blake, a novelist, in 1990. They separated after 10 years but did not divorce.
Mr. Holden was a lifelong poker player, his regular Tuesday games included the British poet Al Alvarez (known to his readers as A. Alvarez). Mr. Holden once decided to try his hand at the majors by spending a year playing tournaments. He eventually qualified for the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and wrote about it in “Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player” (1990). He said that it sold more than any other book he had written. Its sequel, “Bigger Deal”, followed in 2007.
“Tony was a real scholar,” said veteran magazine editor Tina Brown, a longtime friend. (When, in 1981, she married British newspaper editor Harry Evans – Mr. Holden’s boss at the time – in East Hampton, N.Y., Mr. Holden added her to his.)
“He was extremely talented, but he did it with such a light touch,” Ms. Brown said in an interview. “He could write the best gossip column. He was the guy you picked to do elegant, smart tech – very fast. He called her a “classic Grub Street reporter” and added, “The royal stuff was almost a pass-through situation, but she did it brilliantly.”
An avowed anti-monarchist, Mr Holden wrote several more critical books about the royals. When one of them, “The Tarnished Crown,” was published in 1993 by Random House, which Mr. Evans was then running, Mr. Evans took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times saying that if readers Didn’t learn everything they wanted to know about the royal family from the book, they could have asked for a refund. There was no one to take it.