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‘Sound of Music’ star dies at 91


It was opposite Julie Andrews in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, playing Captain von Trapp, that Christopher Plummer became a star.

The award-winning actor, who at 82, became the oldest Academy Award acting winner in history, died on Friday morning at his home in Connecticut. His wife, Elaine Taylor, was by his side, said Lou Pitt, his long-time friend and manager. He was 91.

More than 50 years in the industry, Plummer enjoyed varied roles ranging from the film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to the voice of the villain in Up (2009), and as a canny lawyer in Broadway’s Inherit the Wind. In 2019, he starred as a murdered mystery novelist in Rian Johnson’s whodunnit Knives Out and in the television suspense drama series Departure.

In The Sound of Music, Plumber played an Austrian captain who must flee the country with his folk-singing family to escape service in the Nazi navy, a role he lamented was “humourless and one-dimensional”. He spent the rest of his life referring to the film as The Sound of Mucus or S&M.

“We tried so hard to put humour into it,” he told The Associated Press (AP) in 2007. “It was almost impossible. It was just agony to try to make that guy not a cardboard figure.”

A GIF of the captain ripping a Nazi flag became a popular meme in recent years and gave Plummer a new dose of fame.

The role catapulted Plummer to stardom, but he never took to leading men parts, despite his silver hair, good looks, and ever-so-slight English accent. He preferred character parts, considering them more meaty. His memoir in 2012 was titled In Spite of Myself.

Plummer had a remarkable film renaissance late in life, which began with his acclaimed performance as Mike Wallace in Michael Mann’s 1999 film The Insider, continued in films such as 2001’s A Beautiful Mind and 2009’s The Last Station, in which he played a deteriorating Tolstoy and was nominated for an Oscar.

“He was a mighty force both as man and actor,” Helen Mirren, his co-star in The Last Station, said in a statement Friday. “He was fearless, energetic, courageous, knowledgeable, professional, and a monument to what an actor can be.”

In 2012, Plummer won a supporting actor Oscar for his role in Beginners as Hal Fields, a museum director who becomes openly gay after his wife of 44 years dies. His loving, final relationship becomes an inspiration for his son, who struggles with his father’s death and how to find intimacy in a new relationship.

“Too many people in the world are unhappy with their lot. And then they retire and they become vegetables. I think retirement in any profession is death, so I’m determined to keep crackin’,” he told AP in 2011.

Plummer in 2017 replaced Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World just six weeks before the film was set to hit theatres. That choice that was officially validated in the best possible way for the film – a supporting Oscar nomination for Plummer, his third. “I was just hopeful that at my age, my memory would serve me,” he said at the time. “I had to learn my lines very quickly.”

Director Ridley Scott said he had “a wonderful experience” with Plummer on the film. “What a guy. What a talent. What a life,” Scott said in a statement.

There were fallow periods in his career – a Pink Panther movie here, a Dracula 2000 there and even a Star Trek – as a Klingon, no less. But Plummer had other reasons than the scripts in mind.

“For a long time, I accepted parts that took me to attractive places in the world. Rather than shooting in the Bronx, I would rather go to the south of France, crazed creature than I am,” he told AP in 2007. “And so I sacrificed a lot of my career for nicer hotels and more attractive beaches.”

The Canadian-born actor performed most of the major Shakespeare roles, including Hamlet, Iago, Othello, Prospero, Henry V, and a staggering King Lear at Lincoln Center in 2004. He was a frequent star at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada.

“I’ve become simpler and simpler with playing Shakespeare,” he said in 2007. “I’m not as extravagant as I used to be. I don’t listen to my voice so much anymore. All the pitfalls of playing the classics – you can fall in love with yourself.”

He won two Tony Awards. The first was in 1974 for best actor in a musical for playing the title role in Cyrano and his second in 1997 for his portrayal of John Barrymore in Barrymore. He also won two Emmys.

Plummer was born Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer in Toronto. His maternal great-grandfather was former Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and he was raised by his mother and aunts.

Plummer began his career on stage and in radio in Canada in the 1940s and made his Broadway debut in 1954 in The Starcross Story. While still a relative unknown, he was cast as Hamlet in a 1963 performance co-starring Robert Shaw and Michael Caine. It was taped by the BBC at Elsinore Castle in Denmark, where the play is set, and released in 1964. It won an Emmy.

Plummer married Tony-winning actress Tammy Grimes in 1956 and fathered his only child, actress Amanda Plummer, in 1957. Like both her parents, she also won a Tony, in 1982 for Agnes of God. (Grimes won two Tonys – for Private Lives and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.)

Plummer and Grimes divorced in 1960. A five-year marriage to Patricia Lewis ended in 1967. Plummer married his third wife, dancer Taylor, in 1970, and credited her with helping him overcome a drinking problem.

He was given Canada’s highest civilian honour when he was invested as Companion of the Order of Canada by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968 and was inducted into the American Theatre’s Hall of Fame in 1986.


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