The cinematic world has lost another one of its greatest legends.
Max von Sydow, the Swedish-born acting legend whose career had spanned over seven decades, passed away on March 8 at the age of 90.
von Sydow was known for his work with legendary auteur Ingmar Bergman as well as the cult classic Flash Gordon (as villain Ming the Merciless), Stephen King’s Needful Things (as the Devil himself), and even for recent film fans, Rush Hour 3 opposite Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Born Carl Adolf von Sydow in Lund, Sweden, von Sydow was proficient at German and English at an early age. It was after seeing a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream that he wanted to pursue acting. However, it would wait as he would serve for two years in the military, where he would adopt the first name that would make him an iconic actor for years to come.
After making his film debut in two films, von Sydow gave theater a try and became a well known actor on the stage. In 1955, however, his breakout came when he met Ingmar Bergman, who was the chief director of the Malmo City Theater. In 1957, von Sydow got his breakout lead role as a 14th-Century knight who returns to a plague-stricken Sweden and faces off against Death himself in a game of chess in Bergman’s iconic film The Seventh Seal. From there, along with Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom, Gunnar Bjornstrand, and Ingrid Thulin, von Sydow would be a frequent collaborator with Bergman, appearing in a total of eleven of his films.
During much of the 1950s, von Sydow remained in Sweden but had lived temporarily in Los Angeles during the mid-1960s after he accepted his first international role as Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told. However, another breakout role came in 1973 when he played Father Merrin in the horror classic The Exorcist, in which he and Jason Miller were tasked with driving a demon out of a 12-year old girl, played by the film’s breakout star, Linda Blair. The role earned von Sydow a Golden Globe nomination. Shortly after, von Sydow and his family moved to Rome, where he would appear in many Italian-made films, including the now cult classic Flash Gordon feature film for Dino De Laurentiis as the villainous Ming the Merciless.
von Sydow continued his prolific career in films, appearing in many from various parts of the world and he would gain many accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Pelle the Conqueror in 1985 and appear on TV series such as The Simpsons, Game of Thrones, and had voiced the character of Esbern in the video game hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
von Sydow is survived by his second wife, film producer Catherine Brelet and four children, two from his first marriage and adopting Brelet’s children after their marriage.
WorldFilmGeek sends its condolences to the family of Max von Sydow. As a final tribute, here is Max von Sydow on the Extremely Loud and Incredible Close show from the Tribute Channel.
R.I.P. the iconic Max von Sydow.