Stratford Festival remembers iconic actor Christopher Plummer as ‘quintessential artist’

Christopher Plummer as King Henry V in 1956.
Christopher Plummer as King Henry V in 1956. Herb Nott and Company

The Stratford Festival is mourning the loss of an iconic actor that it says helped build the theatre’s international profile.

In a release, the Stratford, Ont., theatre festival said it is “shocked and deeply saddened” by Christopher Plummer’s passing.

“Christopher (was) our North Star,” said Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “His talent, wit and verve set the highest standards for performance… His work on screen and stage across the globe made us so proud of him.”

Plummer was a member of the Stratford acting company for 11 seasons between 1956 and 2012.

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According to the release, his journey with the festival began in 1956 when Plummer played the title role in the Festival’s production of Henry V, which also toured to the Edinburgh International Festival later that year.

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In 1957 while playing the role of Hamlet, Plummer was hospitalized with kidney stones. His understudy, William Shatner, had to take over.

“Not wanting to be replaced by anyone, Mr. Plummer tried to escape the Stratford General Hospital in a morphine haze,” the release read. “He didn’t get out the door.”

When he heard of his understudy’s success, and as he wrote many years later: “I knew then that the SOB was going to be a ‘star.'”

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The Festival said Plummer also appeared as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, and Bardolph in Henry IV, Part I.

After a hiatus of almost 30 years, Plummer returned to Stratford in 1996 to work on the role that would win him his first Tony.

“He was absolutely unforgettable as John Barrymore in the William Luce play Barrymore, directed by Gene Saks, and the production was so well received that it was taken to Broadway the following year, where it was celebrated at the Tonys,” the release read.

In 2002, he once again returned to the Stratford stage to play King Lear, in a production directed by Jonathan Miller. It toured to New York’s Lincoln Center.

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In this century, Plummer returned to Stratford for three final seasons, playing Caesar in Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra and Prospero in The Tempest, both directed by Des McAnuff.

The Festival said he also developed his own one-person show A Word or Two with McAnuff, presenting it in Stratford in 2012 and taking it on to Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in 2014.

“Christopher Plummer was not only one of the great actors of our time but the quintessential artist,” McAnuff said, reflecting on the legacy of his friend and colleague. “He not only loved acting, he loved actors, and relished the gifts of the most brilliant ones. Anyone who was lucky enough to be his friend is currently embracing the darkest shade of blue.”

The actor was perhaps best-known for portraying Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

Plummer’s wife said he died “peacefully” at his home on Friday in Connecticut after suffering a fall two weeks ago.

Click to play video: 'Canada remembers Christopher Plummer'
Canada remembers Christopher Plummer

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