Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, who is best known for his portrayal of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965) has died at the age of 91. On Friday 5th February, the actor died peacefully in his sleep at his Connecticut home after suffering a blow to his head following a fall. During his nearly 70-year career on the screen and stage, Plummer made history in being the oldest actor to win an Academy Award for his 2010 performance in Beginners. He is survived by his wife Elaine Taylor and actress-daughter Amanda, from his first marriage to Tammy Grimes.
Upon the announcement of Plummer’s death, manager Lou Pitt released the following statement: “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”. Continuing, “Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come… he will forever be with us.” Julie Andrews, who co-stared opposite Plummer in The Sound of Music paid tribute to the “consummate actor” by calling him an “extraordinary man”. Andrews, who remained close to the late Plummer described him as a “cherished friend” who was “completely free, kind and funny”.
From Shakespeare to Broadway, and Hollywood to radio, Plummer’s diversity of acting roles captivated audiences worldwide. Playing over nearly one thousand parts, Plummer’s infinite stamina and endurance were akin to that of Laurence Olivier’s. The New York Times even called his 1982 portrayal of Iago “the best single Shakespearian performance to have originated on the continent in our time”. Among his most notable cinematic roles include, Commodous in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station (2009) and J.P Getty in All The Money in The World (2017). And it is no surprise that the thespian’s prolific body of work garnished him several prestigious accolades. Along with his Academy Award, Christopher Plummer won two Primetime Emmys, two Tony Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe, and a British Academy Film Award. He was also among the select few to be awarded the highest accolade recognized in American film, The Triple Crown of Acting award.
Christopher Plummer was born in 1929 in Toronto, Ontario and had originally planned to be a concert pianist. However, he soon took to acting after first watching Laurence Olivier’s Henry V. Plummer’s first role was as Mr Darcy in a High School adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Theatre critic and amateur stage director, Herbert Whittaker was impressed by the young Plummer’s portrayal of the aloof Austenian love interest, and immediately cast him as Oedipus in La Machine Infernale (1946). Plummer went on to star in several Canadian television productions and radio plays in both French and English until he made his Broadway debut in 1953 in The Starcross Story. In 1958 Plummer bagged himself his first Tony nomination for his appearance in Elia Kazan’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s JB.
The actor’s regal stage presence and flamboyance soon became known across the Atlantic and in 1961 he joined the crème de la crème of British theatre when he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Starring in lead roles in Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, and Becket, Plummer performed at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and the London Globe Theatre. Ironically Plummer’s most cherished performance would be, for him, his worst. The Sound of Music became a touchy subject during interviews throughout the years. Whilst Plummer recognized the enduring popularity of the film and his role as the patriarchal Captain Von Trapp, he found his portrayal wooden and boring to play. In an interview with The Boston Globe, he compared the experience to “flogging a dead horse”, describing the musical as “not my cup of tea”.
Plummer’s capacity and integrity as an actor will go down in history. For Plummer, the passion and unfailing drive to push the boundaries of theatrical ability was a calling in life. In the documentary biopic, Christopher Plummer: A Man For All Stages (2002), the thespian explained how “my first love, my real love, no matter how drudging and unglamorous it is will always be the theatre”. He continued: “You see what education I have, I got from the theatre; it taught me about life even before I’d lived it and above all it introduced me to the glories of language; it is in a way a temple of great language, a place where one worships the written word at its most majestic”.