Award-winning international film icon Max von Sydow has died at the age of 90. He was born Carl Adolf von Sydow in Lund, Skane Ian, Sweden, on April 10, 1929.  He died at his home in Provence, France, March 8, 2020.

Max von Sydow playing chess with Death {image via Svensk Filmindustri}

In a theatrical career that lasted the biblical threescore years and ten he had too many roles to easily chose a ‘best-known for’ role. Fans of classic cinema would be likely to choose Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Krypton Radio fans may remember him as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon or for his Emmy-nominated performance as the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones.

Max von Sydow as Dr. Kynes in Dune {image via Universal Pictures}

His first movie role was in 1949 as Nils in Only a Mother. His final movie role will be as Nikolas Andreou in Echoes of the Past, which is currently in post-production. In between, he played Bond villains (Blofeld in Never Say Never Again), Biblical heroes (Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, St. Paul in Quo Vadis, King David in Solomon), priests and preachers (Father Merrin in The Exorcist, the Rev. Mr. Abner Hale in Hawaii, Cardinal Von Waldberg in The Tudors), and many, many other roles in films, television, and on stage.

He spent two years in the Swedish Army, serving king and country honorably, then studied acting at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. He was quickly recognized as one of Sweden’s most promising young actors. He made his first two movies, Only a Mother and Miss Julie, while still studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre.

In 1951, he joined the Norrköping-Linköping Municipal Theatre, where he performed in nine plays before moving on to the Municipal Theatre in Hälsingborg, where he performed in eleven plays in two years, including Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. From there he moved on to the Malmö Municipal Theatre, where he first worked with director/producer Ingmar Bergman. Von Sydow would eventually appear in eleven films directed by Bergman. Von Sydow was married twice, to actress Christina Olin from 1951 until their divorce in 1979, and to French documentary-maker Catherine Brelet from 1979 until his death in 2020. He had four sons, two by each wife. He became a naturalized French citizen in 2002.

Max von Sydow in SFFH (Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror) Roles

  • The Seventh Seal, 1957 Sir Antonius Block
  • The Magician, 1958 Albert Vogler
  • Wonderful Adventures of Nils, 1962 Nils’ father
  • Hour of the Wolf, 1968 Johan Borg
  • The Apple War, 1971 Roy Lindberg
  • The Exorcist, 1973 Father Merrin
  • Flash Gordon, 1980 Emperor Ming
  • Conan the Barbarian, 1982 King Osric
  • Strange Brew, 1983 Brewmeister Smith
  • Never Say Never Again, 1983 Blofeld
  • The Ice Pirates, 1984 uncredited cameo
  • The Soldier’s Tale, 1984 The Devil
  • Dreamscape, 1984 Dr. Novotny
  • Dune, 1984 Dr. Kynes
  • Ghostbusters II, 1989 Voice of Vigo
  • Until the End of the World, 1991 Henry Farber
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, 1993 Sigmund Freud
  • Needful Things, 1993 Leland Gaunt
  • Judge Dredd, 1995 Judge Fargo
  • Hercules, 1997 Voice of Zeus (Swedish dubbed version)
  • Professione fantasma, 1998 Psicanalista dell’Aldilà
  • What Dreams May Come, 1998 The Tracker
  • Sleepless, 2001 Moretti
  • Minority Report, 2002 Lamar Burgess
  • Curse of the Ring, 2004 Eyvind
  • Robin Hood, 2010 Sir Walter Loxley
  • Moomins and the Comet Chase, 2010 Narrator (French dubbed version)
  • The Last Norwegian Troll, 2010 Voice of the Troll
  • The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, 2011 Voice of Esbern
  • Dragons 3D, 2013 Dr. Alastair Conis
  • Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens Lor San Tekka
  • Game of Thrones, 2016 The Three-Eyed Raven

With over one hundred and sixty acting roles in film and on television, plus numerous roles in legitimate theater, Max von Sydow had a long and distinguished career. He was nominated for an Oscar twice, for Best Actor in 1989 for Pelle erobreren, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film that year, and for Best Supporting Actor in 2011 for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. He was nominated three times for a Saturn Award, for Best Supporting Actor in Flash Gordon and Minority Report, and for Best actor in Needful Things.

Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless {image via Universal Pictures}

Thank you, Mr. Sydow, for your dedication, your talent, and your contributions to the art. You will be greatly missed.

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