Max von Sydow, star of ‘The Seventh Seal’ and ‘Exorcist’, dies at 90
He was widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation
- Published 10.03.20, 5:02 PM
- Updated 10.03.20, 5:02 PM
- 3 mins read
Max von Sydow, the tall, blond Swedish actor who cut a striking figure in American movies but was most identified with the signature work of a fellow Swede, director Ingmar Bergman, died Sunday. He was 90.
His wife, Catherine von Sydow, confirmed the death in an emailed statement. No cause was given. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet said he died in Provence, France.
Widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, von Sydow became an elder pop culture star in his later years, appearing in a Star Wars movie in 2015 as well as in the sixth season of the HBO fantasy-adventure series Game of Thrones. He even lent his deep, rich voice to The Simpsons.
By then, he had become a familiarly austere presence in popular movies like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and, more recently, Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
But to film lovers the world over, he was most enduringly associated with Bergman.
Angular and lanky at 6 feet 3 inches, possessing a gaunt face and hooded, icy blue eyes, von Sydow not only radiated power but also registered a deep sense of Nordic angst, helping to give flesh to Bergman’s often bleak but hopeful and sometimes comic vision of the human condition in classics like The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring.
But it was not until his later years that he could range widely in American movies such as Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Minority Report (2002).
Von Sydow earned his first Academy Award nomination in 1988 for his work in Pelle the Conqueror.
By his late 80s, cast in the brief role of village elder Lor San Tekka in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and as the enigmatic seer Three Eyed Raven in Season Six of Game of Thrones, he was having, as critic Terrence Rafferty wrote in The Atlantic in 2015, “the sort of late career that eminent movie actors tend to have, popping up for a scene or two in commercial stuff that needs a touch of gravity, and receiving, as famous old actors do, the honor of ‘last billing’.”
Von Sydow received his second Oscar nomination, as supporting actor, in 2011 for his performance in the otherwise critically savaged Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, in which he played the mute companion of a boy whose father had died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Carl Adolf von Sydow was born April 10, 1929, in Lund, in southern Sweden. His father was a university professor, his mother a schoolteacher.
He was said to have adopted the name Max from the star performer in a flea circus he saw while serving in the Swedish Quartermaster Corps.
After his military service, he studied at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, from 1948 to 1951, and made his screen debut in Only a Mother (1949).
In 1951, while still in Stockholm, von Sydow married Kerstin Olin, an actress, with whom he had two sons, Clas and Henrik. The marriage ended in divorce after 45 years.
Along with his sons and Catherine von Sydow, he is survived by her sons, Cedric and Yvan, whom he adopted, according to the Expressen newspaper.
Max von Sydow began his long association with Bergman in 1955. Over the next few years, von Sydow appeared in many Bergman films.
By the early 1960s, von Sydow was getting offers from Hollywood and turning them down, saying he was happy enough with his work in Sweden. Then he was offered the role of Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and he went to Hollywood, embarking on an international career.
More challenging roles awaited him back in Sweden, and in the late 1960s he returned there to make another series of films with Bergman and another master Swedish director, Jan Troell.
Von Sydow made his Broadway debut in 1977 as the star of The Night of the Tribades. The production ran for less than two weeks.
Broadway theatregoers had another brief encounter with von Sydow in 1981, when he starred with Anne Bancroft in Duet for One.