Max von Sydow: Legendary ‘Seventh Seal,’ ‘Star Wars’ Actor Dies at 90

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Max von Sydow, the mountainous, sorrow-faced actor whose name became forever-connected with Ingmar Bergman films, has died. He was 90.

Von Sydow, who became Bergman’s symbol for the modern man in such films as “The Passion of Anna” and “Shame” after making his Bergman debut as the errant knight in “The Seventh Seal,” also had an unusually prolific career in Hollywood and international films.


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He made his American debut in the role of Jesus Christ in George Stevens’ turgid 1965 epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and went on to make strong impressions with audiences in “The Exorcist,” Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” David Lynch’s “Dune,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “Hawaii,” “Conan the Barbarian” and “Awakenings.”

Most recently, the actor starred in “Game of Thrones” as the Three-Eyed Raven. He also appeared in “Kursk: The Last Mission” (2018) and “Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2017). In 2014 he was cast in J.J. Abrams’ continuation of the “Star Wars” saga, “Episode VII — The Force Awakens” as Lor San Tekka.

He was the central figure in William Friedkin’s 1973 blockbuster “The Exorcist” and would reprise the role of Father Merrin in “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” directed by John Boorman in 1977.


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He also played the title role in the philosophical but bizarre film adaptation of Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf,” in 1974, and he racked up more bad-guy roles in “Three Days of the Condor” (menacing assassin), “Flash Gordon” (comicbook supervillain) and the James Bond film “Never Say Never Again” (it is said von Sydow had been offered the role of Dr. No, which he turned down in favor of the Christ role in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”). He even played Satan in 1993’s Stephen King adaptation “Needful Things.”

During the 2000s, as the actor headed into his 70s, he was somewhat less busy, with roles in the high-profile “Minority Report,” “Rush Hour 3,” “Shutter Island” and “Robin Hood”; he also recurred as Cardinal Von Waldburg on Showtime’s “The Tudors.”

Von Sydow had a small role in 2007’s critically acclaimed “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and was so grateful for the excellent script that he wrote a thank-you letter to screenwriter Ronald Harwood. The actor told the New York Times that, in his late 70s, he was working less only because of the dearth of quality material.


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In 2011 von Sydow appeared in Stephen Daldry’s post-9/11 drama “Incredibly Loud and Incredibly Close” as a grandfatherly but mute figure. The Village Voice said, “The standout performance, unsurprisingly, is from 82-year-old von Sydow who, communicating with brief notes on tearaway notebook pages and ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ tattoos on his palms, puts a profound amount of nuanced inflection behind every accompanying expression.”

Von Sydow was married twice, to actress Kerstin Olin in 1951 and to French filmmaker Catherine Brelet in 1997. He is survived by Brelet; his two sons by Olin, Claes and Henrik, who appeared with the actor in the film “Hawaii”; and two sons, Cedric and Yvan, by Brelet.

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