Max von Sydow, Star of ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Seventh Seal,’ Dies at 90
The Exorcist. The Seventh Seal. Flash Gordon. The Virgin Spring. Three Days of the Condor. Minority Report. Winter Light. Conan the Barbarian. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One man appeared in all of them: Swedish actor Max von Sydow, who passed away on Sunday at his home in France. His widow, filmmaker Catherine von Sydow, announced the news (via THR) saying “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.”
His career spanned some 70 years and over 100 films and television shows, including all of those classic films listed above and many more. Born in Lund in 1929, von Sydow studied drama and, in 1955, he met filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Together, they made 11 films together, including the iconic The Seventh Seal, about a medieval knight (played by von Sydow) who plays a chess game with the literal incarnation of Death (Bengt Ekerot). He came to America in the mid-1960s, playing Jesus in George Stevens Bible epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.
American audiences likely know von Sydow best as Father Merrin from The Exorcist, where he was locked in another metaphysical struggle with supernatural forces. Hollywood often cast him as villains, as in Flash Gordon, where he played Ming the Merciless, or Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
My favorite von Sydow performance, although it is not one of his best known efforts, is the 1975 thriller Three Days of the Condor, where he plays an assassin named Joubert. He pursues the hero (played by Robert Redford) through the entire movie, trying to fulfill a contract. But then at the end of the film he does something that surprises us, and even offers some advice to Redford’s character. I’ve always loved this scene.
One role you may not realize von Sydow performed was the voice of Vigo from Ghostbusters Ii. While Wilhelm von Homburg played Vigo’s physical form, his dialogue was supplied by von Sydow. To be honest, I just learned this fact today myself — although once you know to listen for him, his voice is unmistakable:
Here are a few of the tributes to the great actor that have already popped up online:
Truly, if you had to pick one actor and their filmography as your own, out of everyone who’s ever lived, you could do a lot worse than von Sydow, whose career spanned continents and generations, and included collaborations with some of the greatest directors who ever lived. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy.
Gallery — Every Oscar Best Picture Winner Through History: