“It is 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,” reads a statement from his widow, Catherine von Sydow.
Born in Sweden in 1929, von Sydow is known to many for his chess game with Death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Bergman was a mentor to the actor, who met the director when he moved to Malmö in 1955. There, he acted in Bergman productions at the Malmö Municipal Theatre before appearing in films like 1957's Wild Strawberries and 1960's The Virgin Spring. We were especially fond of von Sydow’s work in 1958's The Magician: “More than an hour passes before Max von Sydow, the eponymous conjurer, even speaks a word, but his eyes—and Gunnar Fischer’s exquisite black-and-white cinematography—communicate all that is necessary about a man who works to sustain a practiced air of mystery.”
U.S. audiences will also recognize von Sydow, as he starred in a wide variety of American comedies, dramas, and genre pieces, most notably as the doomed Father Merrin in The Exorcist. But he also worked with David Lynch (Dune), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report), Penny Marshall (Awakenings), Woody Allen (Hannah And Her Sisters), and Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), and was nominated for Oscars for his turns in 1987's Pelle The Conquerer and 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
But, for as refined as von Sydow was as an actor, he was never above appearing in fare many might consider lowbrow. There was his committed turn as the villainous Brewmeister Smith in Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ hilarious Strange Brew, for instance, as well as his sumptuous performances in VHS relics like Judge Dredd and Needful Things, in which he played Stephen King’s evil shop owner Leland Gaunt.
In recent years, von Sydow appeared in three of Hollywood’s biggest franchises, first as Lor San Tekka in 2013's The Force Awakens, then as a voice on a 2014 episode of The Simpsons, and then as Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven in Game Of Thrones, for which he would receive an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actor. From our review of von Sydow’s Simpsons episode: “Von Sydow is exactly the sort of guest star you get when you want your episode of television to assume a resonance it may not have earned otherwise. I love Max, and, as he’s proved in roles from Ming the Merciless to Brewmeister Smith, Ingmar Bergman’s favorite actor can deliver a silly line with the lightest touch and greatest conviction in the world.”
His final role will be in Nicholas Dimitropoulos’ Echoes Of The Past, which is currently in post-production.