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Max von Sydow (1929–2020), actor known for “The Exorcist,” “The Seventh Seal”

by Linnea Crowther

Max von Sydow was a Swedish actor whose well-known films include “The Exorcist” and “The Seventh Seal.” He was known for the gravitas he brought to his roles, beginning in his early career as he was mentored by, and became a favorite star of, legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. He would go on to appear in more than 100 movies and television shows over the course of 70 years. Von Sydow was nominated for two Academy Awards, for “Pelle the Conqueror” (1987) and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2011).

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Died: March 8, 2020 (Who else died on March 8?)

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Details of death: Died at the age of 90.


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An extensive filmography: Von Sydow’s career spanned eight decades, beginning with his debut film, Only a Mother,” in 1949 and extending well into the 21st century. He first came to prominence with his performance in “The Seventh Seal” (1957), in which he portrayed a medieval knight who played chess with Death. In the 1965 biblical epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” von Sydow played Jesus. He would play a very different kind of religious man in “The Exorcist” (1973), in which he portrayed Father Merrin, who tried to rid a young girl of a demon. In the 1980s, his notable roles included Ming the Merciless in “Flash Gordon” (1980), King Osric in “Conan the Barbarian” (1981), classic James Bond villain Ernst Blofeld in “Never Say Never Again” (1983), and Doctor Kynes in “Dune” (1984). As von Sydow aged, he continued to work steadily, with later films including “Minority Report” (2002), “Shutter Island” (2009), “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2011), and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015). In 2016, he joined the cast of “Game of Thrones” in a recurring role as the Three-eyed Raven.

Notable quote: “I remember those days with Bergman with great nostalgia. We were aware that the films were going to be quite important, and the work felt meaningful.”

What people said about him: “The legendary actor who gave us both Brewmeister Smith and Ming the Merciless as finally laid down his King in the eternal chess match. Farewell, Max von Sydow. You were in many much more respected movies than Strange Brew and Flash Gordon but I loved you for those flicks first.” —filmmaker Kevin Smith

“Max von Sydow, such an iconic presence in cinema for seven decades, it seemed like he’d always be with us. He changed the face of international film with Bergman, played Christ, fought the devil, pressed the HOT HAIL button & was Oscar nominated for a silent performance. A God.” —filmmaker Edgar Wright

“Rest in peace, Max von Sydow, a film titan and one of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen.” —Tribeca Film Festival

Full obituary: The Washington Post

Related lives:

  • Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007), iconoclastic Swedish filmmaker
  • Bibi Andersson (1935–2019), Swedish actress starred in 13 Ingmar Bergman films
  • Charlton Heston (1923–2008), von Sydow’s costar in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”

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