Christopher Plummer, ‘The Sound of Music’ Actor, Dead at 91
Christopher Plummer, the prolific actor who starred in The Sound of Music, Beginners, The Last Station and countless more, died Friday, February 5th. He was 91.
Plummer’s manager, Lou Pitt, confirmed his death, in a statement to Variety, “Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self deprecating humor and the music of words. He was a National Treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots. 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.”
Plummer’s career spanned more than seven decades and, per IMDB, included over 200 credits. In 2012, he became the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar, taking home Best Supporting Actor for his turn in Mike Mills’ Beginners. Two years prior, he’d been nominated for the same prize for The Last Station, while in 2018 he was up for it again for his performance in All the Money in the World in a role that he was cast in last-minute to replace Kevin Spacey.
“It was a great honor to work with Christopher, to be in conversation with such a dedicated artist,” Beginners director Mike Mills said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “In his 80’s when we met, I marveled at his intense curiosity, hunger to make something vulnerable, and his need to challenge himself. Christopher was both dignified and mischievous, deeply cultured and always looking for a good laugh. As he said about playing my father who was dying “not an ounce of self pity”, and that’s how he was. I’ll always be indebted to Christopher for honoring the story of an older man who dares to come out of the closet, to overcome shame with grace, and intelligence, and a rowdy desire for life – Christopher knew how to make that story alive for so many people.”
Plummer was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal by his mother after his parents divorced. Though Plummer came from a rather distinguished lineage — his great-grandfather, Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, was a railway magnate and former prime minister — there wasn’t much money left by the time Plummer was growing up, and his mother often worked two jobs to support them.
Plummer found his outlet in music and acting. In fact, he was such a natural on the stage that he wowed the theater critic for the Montreal Gazette with his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in his high school’s production of Pride and Prejudice. By 18, he was a player in the Montreal Repertory Theater, earning more raves for playing Oedipus in a production of Jean Cocteau’s Infernal Machine.
In the Fifties, Plummer began scoring television roles in both Canada and the United States, while in 1953 he made his Broadway debut in The Starcross Story (though the show closed after its opening night). Television anthologies, touring productions and other stage work comprised the bulk of Plummer’s work during the Fifties, a run that culminated with a Tony Nomination in 1959 for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Archibald MacLeish’s J.B.
Plummer began making some headway in Hollywood towards the end of the Fifties, making his film debut in Sidney Lumet’s 1958 film Stage Struck. Other early credits included Wind Across the Everglades and The Fall of the Roman Empire, and then in 1965 he played Captain von Trapp in the film adaptation of The Sound of Music (it was Bill Lee who overdubbed the singing parts).
We’re saddened to hear of Christopher Plummer’s passing. His legacy as our Captain will live on in THE SOUND OF MUSIC forever. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this time.♥️ pic.twitter.com/hDV3q1opzJ
— The Sound of Music (@SoundofMusic) February 5, 2021
While the role is arguably his most famous, Plummer was never much of a fan. As The Times notes, he told People in a 1982 interview, “To do a lousy part like von Trapp, you have to use every trick you know to fill the empty carcass of the role. That damn movie follows me around like an albatross.” Plummer did seem to soften later in life, writing in his 2008 memoir, In Spite of Myself, that he’d been a “pampered, arrogant young bastard,” spoiled by rich theater roles, and that his “behavior was unconscionable.”
Despite his feelings at the time, The Sound of Music didn’t turn Plummer off from Hollywood. In fact his career over the next several decades found him doing everything from Shakespeare to schlock: For every middling movie like The Pyx, The Spiral Staircase or International Velvet, Plummer took on meatier roles like Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King and Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington in Waterloo. He also remained a fixture on the stage, winning the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Cyrano in 1974.
Three years later, Plummer won an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers. In fact, he was on the verge of securing the EGOT — a rarity for performers whose careers aren’t rooted in music — when he got a Grammy nomination in 1986 for Best Recording for Children for a reading of The Nutcracker (alas, he lost to Jim Henson and Steve Buckingham’s Follow That Bird: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).
In 1997, Plummer notched another career milestone, winning his second Tony for his widely praised portrayal of the actor John Barrymore in William Luce’s two-person play Barrymore (Plummer reprised the role in the 2011 film adaptation as well). He also won another Emmy for narrating the animated children’s series, Madeline, and took on roles in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys and Michael Mann’s The Insider, where he portrayed journalist Mike Wallace.
Plummer remained a reliable character actor well into the new millennium, even expanding his reach into video game voiceover work with 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Additional Tony nominations came for turns in King Lear (2004) and Inherit the Wind (2007), while he also appeared in acclaimed films like A Beautiful Mind, Inside Man and Syriana and delightful lighter fare like National Treasure, Up and Must Love Dogs.
In 2009, at the age of 80, Plummer finally earned his first Oscar nomination for playing Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station. Two years later, at the age of 82, when he won for Beginners at the 84th Academy Awards, he held up his trophy and joked, “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank you speech. But it was so long ago, mercifully for you I’ve forgotten it.”
Plummer continued to work regularly thought his final decade. Arguably his most impressive feat came in 2017, when he replaced Spacey as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World; at the time, the film had already been finished, and Plummer was brought in to re-shoot all the scenes that Spacey had been in. Plummer made his final film appearances in 2019, starring in Rian Johnson’s celebrated whodunnit Knives Out, and Todd Robinson’s war drama, The Last Full Measure.
RIP to Christopher Plummer, a living legend who loved his craft, and was an absolute gentleman. So lucky to have shared a set with him. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/hNPbTM6Gxw
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) February 5, 2021