The world woke up to some sad news today. According to The Hollywood Reporter, legendary actor Max von Sydow passed away at the age of 90 at his home in Provence, France. The news was confirmed by his wife, French documentary filmmaker and producer Catherine von Sydow, who said in a statement: “It’s with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max Von Sydow on March 8, 2020.”
The Swedish actor had a body of work to envy, appearing in films like Ingrid Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told, Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. He also made a name for himself in genre films like the 1980 science fiction film Flash Gordon—where he played the Emperor Ming—and recently in big-name properties like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as Lor San Tekka, and HBO’s Game of Thrones, as the Three-Eyed Raven. He played Swedish father who immigrates to Denmark in the 1987 Swedish film Pelle the Conqueror, which earned him an Oscar nomination—the first, and to date only, Swedish actor to ever get such a distinction. The film also won the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for foreign language picture.
But von Sydow is probably best remembered for his iconic role in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist, where he played Father Merrin, a priest in conflict with a demon named Pazuzu taking refuge in the body of a young girl. The film was a major hit, raked in awards nominations, and made von Sydow—who was aged up for the role—a more knowable force in Hollywood. It’s him on the film’s memorable poster, standing in the lamplight outside the home the demon is ravaging, about to embark on an impossible quest of faith.
You might also remember him as King Osric in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, as Blofeld in the 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again, as Leland Gaunt in the 1993 Stephen King adaptation of Needful Things, or as Papinou in the acclaimed 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He also voiced Vigo in Ghostbusters II and recently played Klaus Ziegler in the 2014 episode of The Simpsons, “The War of Art.”
Von Sydow was well-known and much decorated in his native Sweden, where he worked as a stage actor before transitioning to film. He worked Bergman on a number of films early in his career, including Through a Glass Darkly and Wild Strawberries. “It was very special, I was very privileged, and I’m very grateful for all the wonderful opportunities he gave me,” von Sydow said of the legendary director in a 2012 interview (via THR).
We’re saddened by von Sydow’s passing, but thrilled to know that he created such an excellent and important catalogue of work. He’ll live on forever on the big and small screens, awaiting rediscovery from new cinephiles. He’s an actor who made the most of everything, and cut a bold impression in fils of every shape and size and genre. That’s the mark of a man who adored his career. You’ll be missed. sir.
Featured Image: Macall B. Polay/courtesy of HBO