“I can only say he was a crude bigoted asshole.” That was the assessment of Ghostbusters II producer Michael C. Gross when asked to give his opinion of Norbert Grupe, the wrestler-turned-boxer-turned-actor who portrayed a villainous medieval tyrant in the 1989 sequel. Journalist Shaun Raviv’s eye-opening “The Hateful Life And Spiteful Death Of The Man Who Was Vigo The Carpathian”more than bears out Gross’ opinion as it tells the disturbing facts of Norbert Grupe’s unenviable life, including an incident in 1959 when Norbert raped his father’s wife, Ursula. Born in Berlin in 1940, Norbert was the son of Richard Grupe, a guard at Buchenwald and a wrestler and boxer in his own right. Father and son wrestled as a tag team called “the Vikings” before Norbert struck out on his own as a wrestler and boxer under the name “Prince” Wilhelm Von Homburg, playing up the role of the ultimate German baddie, a decision even he admitted was bad for his career.
Norbert’s boxing career was rife with bitter disappointments, as when he was disqualified during an important match for head-butting in 1966, and he sabotaged his own prodigious talent with excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol. “Norbert’s life is one of the most dangerous ones I’ve ever known,” testifies a friend. Eventually, Norbert’s harsh lifestyle took a toll on his once-beautiful appearance, but he did manage to occasionally find work as a character actor in films like Die Hard, where he played one of Hans Gruber’s thugs and died off camera in an elevator shaft. Ghostbusters II, released a year after his father’s death, was Norbert’s unlikely ticket to pop culture immortality, but he deeply resented the fact that his character’s voice was overdubbed and that he spent most of the film as an immobile portrait in a museum. Norbert Grupe ultimately wound up broke and essentially homeless, dying of prostate cancer in 2004. As Raviv’s article reveals, he was such a thoroughly unlikable guy that he even used his death as a way to get belated revenge on his half-sister.