Variety

‘Sound of Music’ patriarch Christopher Plummer dead at 91

Reuters WASHINGTON | Updated on February 06, 2021

A file photo of veteran actor Christopher Plummer   -  REUTERS

Christopher Plummer, a patrician Canadian who starred as widower Captain von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in the blockbuster 1965 musical TheSound Of Music and in 2012 became the oldest actor to win an Oscar, has died at 91, his long time friend and manager Lou Pitt said on Friday.

“Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self-deprecating humour and the music of words,” Pitt said. “He was a National Treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots. Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come.”

Plummer passed away peacefully at his home in Connecticut with his wife Elaine Taylor at his side, Deadline Hollywood said.

Illustrious career

Plummer, an accomplished Shakespearean actor honoured for his varied stage, television and film work in a career that spanned more than six decades, was best known for his role in The SoundOf Music, which at the time eclipsed Gone With the Wind (1939) as the top-earning film ever.

Plummer flourished in a succession of meaty roles after age70 -- a time in life when most actors merely fade away. He claimed a long-awaited Academy Award at age 82 for his supporting performance in Beginners as an elderly man who comes out of the closet as gay after his wife's death.

“You’re only two years older than me, darling,” Plummer, who was born in 1929, purred to his golden statuette - first given for films made in 1927 and 1928 - at the February 2012 Oscars ceremony. “Where have you been all my life?”

Plummer became the oldest actor to win a competitive Academy Award - supplanting Jessica Tandy and George Burns, who both were 80 when they won theirs.

Plummer appeared in more than 100 films and also was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Russian author Leo Tolstoy in 2009's The Last Station. He won two Tony Awards for his Broadway work, two Emmy Awards for TV work and performed for some of the world's top theatre companies.

The Sound Of Music

But for many fans his career was defined by his performance as an stern widower in The Sound Of Music - a role he called “a cardboard figure, humourless and one-dimensional”. In his 2008autobiography In Spite Of Myself, Plummer refers to the movie with the mischievous acronym ‘S&M’.

It took him four decades to change his view of the film and embrace it as a “terrific movie” that made him proud.

Director Robert Wise's wholesome, sentimental film follows the singing von Trapp family and their 1938 escape from the Nazis. Plummer’s character falls in love with Andrews, portraying a woman hired to care for his seven children. The movie won the Academy Award as best picture of 1965.

“Originally I had accepted Robert Wise's offer simply because I wanted to find out what it was like to be in a musical comedy,” Plummer wrote in his book. “I had a secret plan to one day turn ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ into a Broadway musical. 'S&M' would therefore be a perfect workout in preparation for such anevent.”

He said he had never sung before in my life - “not even in the shower” - before taking a role that included crooning the song Edelweiss. He blamed his own “vulgar streak” for the desire to star in a big, splashy Hollywood extravaganza.

“And yes, all right, I'll admit it, I was also a pampered, arrogant, young bastard, spoiled by too many great theatre roles,” he wrote. “Ludicrous though it may seem, I still harboured the old-fashioned stage actor's snobbism toward movie making.”

Late-career renaissance

Plummer's late-career renaissance began with director Michael Mann's The Insider (1999) in which he portrayed CBS News interviewer Mike Wallace, acting alongside Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

That was followed by triumphs in director Ron Howard's Academy Award best picture winner A Beautiful Mind (2001), director Spike Lee's Inside Man (2006), Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (both 2009) and Barrymore and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (both 2011).

Plummer's early films included 1965's "Inside Daisy Clover"with Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, released the same year as"The Sound Of Music," "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964) withSophia Loren and Alec Guinness, and "Triple Cross" (1966).

Among his more colourful roles were as an eye-patch-wearing Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and as an urbane jewel thief in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). He said he kicked himself for turning down the Gandalf role in the popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One of his last major roles was as another patriarch, in the dark-comedy Knives Out in 2019. His TV roles included the 1983 mini-series The Thorn Birds.

Plummer lived with Elaine in Connecticut. He was the fatherof Tony Award-winning actress Amanda Plummer.

Plummer was born in Toronto on December 13, 1929, into a privileged railroad family. He was the great-grandson of Sir John Abbott, the third prime minister of Canada.

Plummer confessed to a boozy lifestyle with plenty of affairs through the 1960s. He said his third wife, British actress Elaine Taylor, forced him after their 1970 marriage to stop the carousing that consumed some of his peers and friends,such as Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole.

“Yeah, I stopped,” he told Britain's Telegraph newspaper in2010. “Square son of a bitch that I was, coward that I was! No,Elaine did say, ‘If you don't quit this stupid over-drinking I’m outta here’. And thank God. She did in a sense save my life.”

Published on February 06, 2021

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