Swedish-born actor Max von Sydow, whose seven-decade career saw him go from starring in iconic art-house movies by Ingmar Bergman to appearing in English-language hits including “The Exorcist” and “Game of Thrones”, has died in France aged 90, his family said.
“It is with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max von Sydow” on Sunday, said a statement sent to AFP.
Von Sydow took French citizenship in 2002 and renounced his Swedish nationality, but remains fondly remembered in his homeland.
With chiselled features and piercing blue eyes, von Sydow became a recognisable face during a career that mixed genres and languages and saw him play vulnerable heroes and evil villains.
“He was one of the world’s greatest actors,” said the former president of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob.
“He could play troubling roles but Max had a delicacy and a humanity that were so moving.”
In 1973, he became part of horror movie history in “The Exorcist” where he portrayed a priest trying to rid a possessed young girl of her literal demons, shouting the iconic line: “The power of Christ compels you.”
More recently, von Sydow appeared in blockbusters such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the hit television HBO series “Game of Thrones” making him a familiar face to millions in the later part of his life.
Chess with death
His career began more humbly in the early 1950s on the theatre stages of Stockholm and then Malmo, where he met the man who would help forge his career — Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
It is von Sydow’s collaboration with Bergman in art-house films often laden with existential angst — now seen as all-time classics — that are likely to be his best-remembered roles.
In one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, von Sydow played the knight who has a chess game with death on a lonely beach in “The Seventh Seal” from 1957.
He appeared in numerous other Bergman movies, notably “The Virgin Spring” and “Through a Glass Darkly” as well as the English-language “The Touch” in which he starred alongside American actor Elliott Gould.
He also worked with fellow Scandinavian acting great Liv Ullmann on Jan Troell’s 1971 masterpiece “The Emigrants” about a group of impoverished Swedes moving to the United States. It received several Oscar nominations.
Von Sydow was twice nominated for Academy Awards, first in 1989 for his role in “Pelle the Conqueror” and then in 2012 for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” about an 11-year-old boy whose father dies in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
One of his final roles was as a stern Russian admiral in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2018 English-language film about the 2000 Kursk Russian submarine disaster.
Von Sydow had two sons with his first wife Christina Olin. He married his second wife, French documentary filmmaker Catherine Brelet, in 1997, and the couple lived together in France.
He had to renounce his Swedish citizenship in 2002 when he acquired French nationality.
“I want to live in France. And I want to die in France,” he told newspaper Aftonbladet in 2012.