Sound of Music star Christopher Plummer dies at 91

Updated 06 Feb, 2021 01:20pm

He was the oldest Academy Award winner in history.

Christopher Plummer, the award-winning actor who played Captain von Trapp in the film The Sound of Music and at 82 became the oldest Academy Award acting winner in history, has died at the age of 91.

Plummer died Friday morning at his home in Connecticut with his wife, Elaine Taylor, by his side, said Lou Pitt, his longtime friend and manager.

Over 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 2009′s Up and as a canny lawyer in Broadway’s Inherit the Wind. In 2019 he starred as murdered mystery novelist in Rian Johnson’s whodunnit Knives Out and in the TV suspense drama series Departure.

But it was opposite Julie Andrews as von Trapp in 1965 that made him a star. He 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 “humorless and one-dimensional.” Plummer spent the rest of his life referring to the film as “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M.”

“We tried so hard to put humor into it,” he told The Associated Press 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 does 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.

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.”

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 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.

Early life

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 honor 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.

Reactions

Julie Andrews

The world has lost a consummate actor today and I have lost a cherished friend. I treasure the memories of our work together and all the humor and fun we shared through the years.

Actor Chris Evans

This is truly heartbreaking. What an unbelievable loss. Few careers have such longevity and impact. One of my favorite memories from “Knives Out” was playing piano together in the Thrombey house between set ups. He was a lovely man and a legendary talent.

Director Ridley Scott

What a guy. What a talent. What a life. And I was fortunate enough to work with him less than 2 years ago and had a wonderful experience.

Actor George Takei

The Sound of Music is a sad one today as Christopher Plummer has left us today.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Christopher Plummer beguiled audiences across generations in memorable roles from Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” to Harlan Thrombey in “Knives Out.” He worked steadily for 60+ years, winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2012 for “Beginners.” He will be missed.

The Sound of Music Official Twitter

We’re saddened to hear of Christopher Plummer’s passing. His legacy as our Captain will live on in THE SOUND OF MUSIC forever. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this time.

British Academy of Film and Television Arts

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Christopher Plummer. Making amazing work since the ‘50s, he was BAFTA nominated for All the Money in the World and won in 2012 for Beginners.

US journalist Dan Rather

“Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever.” RIP Christopher Plummer. You lit up screen and stage over a lifetime of art. My thoughts are with your family and friends.

Director Rian Johnson

RIP to Christopher Plummer, a living legend who loved his craft, and was an absolute gentleman. So lucky to have shared a set with him.

Actor Helen Mirren

He was fearless, energetic, courageous, knowledgeable, professional and a monument to what an actor can be. A Great Actor in the truest sense.

Actor Ana De Armas

My heart is broken, my dear Chris. I feel your loss deep inside. How lucky was I having you next to me in what’s been one the best experiences of my career.

Actor Don Johnson

My Dear ol drinkin and runnin buddy...see ya on the other side.

Musician Maren Morris

Sad day losing Christopher Plummer. The Sound of Music had such an impact on me. YEARS ago I recorded a little version of “Edelweiss” with some friends one night because it remains one of my favorite songs in this world.

Antoni Cimolion, Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival

Christopher Plummer was our North Star. His talent, wit and verve set the highest standards for performance. His support for Stratford was unparalleled as he returned time and again to fondly rejoin his company of players. We shall not look upon his like again.

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