Oscar winner, ‘Sound of Music’ star Christopher Plummer dies

Mark Kennedy
Associated Press
View Comments

New York – Christopher Plummer, the dashing 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. He was 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.

In this June 11, 2018 photo, Christopher Plummer poses for a portrait to promote his film "Boundaries" in New York.

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.”

But it was opposite Julie Andrews as von Trapp 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.”

Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, cast members in the classic film "The Sound of Music," pose together before a 50th anniversary screening of the film on the opening night of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival on Thursday, March 26, 2015, in Los Angeles.

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.

Charmian Carr, as Liesl von Trapp, listens to Christopher Plummer, as Captain Georg von Trapp, in 1965's classic "The Sound of Music."

Tributes quickly came from Hollywood and Broadway. Joseph Gordon-Levitt called him “one of the greats” and George Takei posted “Rest in eternal music, Captain von Trapp.” Dave Foley, a fellow Canadian, wrote: “If I live to be 91 maybe I’ll have time to fully appreciate all the great work of Christopher Plummer.”

Actor Christopher Plummer, center, is joined by fellow actors Shirley MacLaine, left, and William Shatner during a hand and footprint ceremony for Plummer outside the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on Friday, March 27, 2015, in Los Angeles.

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.

Actors Helen Mirren, left, and Christopher Plummer, pose during a photocall for the movie "The Last Station" in Berlin, Germany, April 4, 2008.

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.

Christopher Plummer stars with Mark Wahlberg in "All the Money in the World."

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 theaters. That choice that was officially validated in the best possible way for the film – a supporting Oscar nomination for Plummer, his third. In 2019, he starred in the TV suspense drama series “Departure.”

Christopher Plummer, left, and director Ridley Scott arrive at the world premiere of "All the Money in the World" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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.

Christopher Plummer stars as Chang in 1991's "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

“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, Cyrano, 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.

James Earl Jones, left, who plays Othello in a Peter Coe production, sits with co-star Christopher Plummer who portrays Iago, Oct. 25, 1981 in Boston.

“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.”

Canadian-born actor Christopher Plummer, shown June 15, 1973, is making his musical debut on Broadway in "Cyrano."

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.

Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in 2017's  "The Man Who Invented Christmas."

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.

Amanda Plummer arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" at Nokia Theatre LA Live on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

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.

–––

AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report.

View Comments