Christopher Plummer, the Canadian actor who charmed us as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 movie The Sound of Music, has died at the age of 91. The legendary actor passed away early Friday morning at his home in Connecticut, with his wife of 53 years, Elaine Taylor, by his side.
“Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self deprecating humour and the music of words,” said Lou Pitt, his longtime friend and manager. “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.”
“It’s so sad but he had a great life,” said Taylor to The Canadian Press by phone. “He had a fall, unfortunately. He hit his head against my car and he was taken to the hospital. They repaired the leaks and he came home, but it was a really horrible accident.”
“He fought the good fight,” she added. “But eventually I think he thought… ‘Exit stage right.'”
Plummer is a well-known veteran of stage and screen, playing iconic characters like Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Stratford Festival and starring in independent films like 2012’s Beginners, which landed him his only Academy Award at age 82 (he is the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar).
In what can only be described as an incredible career, Plummer also won two Emmy awards, two Tony awards, a SAG award, a BAFTA award and a Golden Globe.
His ability to transcend character boundaries and add his own unique trademark to the roles is rare in acting, and Plummer belonged to that original era of thespians who, quite literally, threw themselves into their work.
Born Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer on Dec. 13, 1929 in Toronto, his parents divorced shortly after his birth and he was raised in Senneville, Que., just outside of Montreal. Bilingual in English and French, Plummer originally wanted to be a concert pianist, but became interested in acting after seeing Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944).
Plummer’s career trajectory started to rise after he was spotted in a high-school performance of Pride & Prejudice by the Montreal Repertory Theatre director, who swiftly cast the then-18-year-old as Oedipus in his production of La Machine infernale.
From there, the low-and-smooth-voiced Plummer became a master of the theatre, appearing in countless plays and taking on challenging, varied roles. He made his Broadway debut in 1954 in The Starcross Story, and flew across the pond for much of the ’60s to perform in London’s prestigious West End. A Shakespeare lover from the start, Plummer played numerous characters from that universe, including King Lear (as mentioned above), Hamlet, Henry V, Iago, Mercutio, Mark Antony and Macbeth, to name only a few.
Plummer’s big-screen career began in 1958 when renowned director Sidney Lumet cast him as a young writer in Stage Struck. After that, his film work was scattered for several years and he barely acted on-screen. Plummer never looked back after his big breakout in The Sound of Music. He was instantly recognizable to millions of people (and still is) for his portrayal of the stern Captain.
Ironically, Plummer hated the film and thought it overly sweet and cheesy. He called the Von Trapp role “so awful and sentimental and gooey,” and found the only non-annoying element to be his co-star, Julie Andrews. To this day, he avoids calling the movie by its name, instead calling it “that movie,” “S&M,” or “The Sound of Mucous.”
“I was a bit bored with the character,” he said to a Boston publication in an interview. “Although we worked hard enough to make him interesting, it was a bit like flogging a dead horse. And the subject matter is not mine. I mean it can’t appeal to every person in the world. It’s not my cup of tea.’”
Plummer found fulfillment in the majority of his other film roles, which, like his theatre experience, cut a wide swath across genres and audiences. He thrilled the Star Trek fandom as Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), tried his hand at comedy in 1987’s Dragnet (alongside fellow Canuck Dan Aykroyd and a young Tom Hanks) and popped up in 1995 psychological thriller 12 Monkeys.
The beauty of Plummer’s career is he’s so prolific and so varied, you’ll never know when he’s going to waltz into a scene. But it’s always a treat. When he received his first-ever Oscar nomination in 2010 for The Last Station (which he ultimately lost to Christoph Waltz), he joked to the CBC, “Well, it’s about time! I mean, I’m 80 years old, for God’s sake. Have mercy.”
Of course, Plummer also appeared on his fair share of television shows, mostly in the U.S., and has nearly 100 TV roles to his name. Some notable shows include 1958’s Little Moon of Alban (for which he received his first Emmy nomination), 1959’s The Philadelphia Story and 2000’s American Tragedy.
Amazingly, Plummer continued to work on stage and screen into his late 80s, a feat not many actors can brag about. Most recently, he starred in Global’s Departure, and he will make some final appearances in the upcoming Season 2.
“We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of the legendary Canadian actor Christopher Plummer,” said Lisa Godfrey, Senior Vice President of Original Content and Corus Studios. “As a true national treasure, Christopher’s incredible career spanned across several decades and we were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside such an astounding talent these past two years with his acclaimed role in Departure. On behalf of Global TV and Corus Entertainment, we offer our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”
“Too many people in the world are unhappy with their lot. And then they retire and they become vegetables. I think retirement in any profession is death, so I’m determined to keep crackin’,” he said.
Plummer leaves behind his wife, Taylor, and one daughter, Amanda Plummer. Visitation and ceremony details have not yet been announced.
Tony Award, 1974: Best Leading Actor in a Musical (1974), Cyrano
Emmy Award, 1976: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series, The Moneychangers
Genie Award, 1980: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Murder by Decree
Emmy Award, 1994: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance, Madeline
Tony Award, 1997: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, Barrymore
Boston Society of Film Critics Award, 1999: The Insider
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, 1999: The Insider
Golden Globe Award, 2012: Best Supporting Actor, Beginners
Academy Award, 2012: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Beginners