Max von Sydow Dead at 90
Max von Sydow, in many ways “my” Christopher Lee, has died at age 90. “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 March 8, 2020,” Deadline reports, citing a statement from his widow, Catherine von Sydow.
Von Sydow was inarguably a prolific actor. He is credited with some truly memorable roles like Ming the Merciless, Father Merrin, or Jesus Christ. But these aren’t what stand out for me, personally.
A Lifetime of Memorable Roles
I first remember Max von Sydow as King Osric in Milius’ Conan the Barbarian. My initial exposure to Mr. von Sydow was a small part of his filmography, to be sure. But it instantly became a meaningful one, nonetheless. Here was a despondent king deep in his cups, having lost his daughter to a cult whose influence was spreading throughout his kingdom—every bit the “quest giver” for our heroes. Many of von Sydow’s lines and his delivery here have indelibly stuck in my mind. His talk of how riches had lost their splendor? How he employed Conan and Company to snatch his daughter back from Thulsa Doom’s corruptive grasp? It made for an unforgettable moment in an absolutely classic adventure story.
Vigo the Carpathian
Next, I found Mr. von Sydow as the voice of Vigo the Carpathian, the villain of Ghostbusters II. The first Ghostbusters film premiered a bit too early in my life to have an appreciable impact. But the sequel came at a time when I could easily fall head-first into the fandom. Von Sydow as Vigo’s voice, together with Wilhelm von Homburg physically portraying the Carpathian tyrant, made for a truly intimidating threat. I know there is controversy about the over-dubbing of von Homburg’s own vocal performance as Vigo, but truly, I couldn’t imagine Vigo without von Sydow’s booming voice. Neither could the creators, apparently, as von Sydow was asked to reprise the role of Vigo for the 2009 Ghostbusters video game.
I encountered Mr. von Sydow again in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things, where he played opposite another favorite of mine, Ed Harris. Here, von Sydow’s role was more nuanced, subdued; he could be seen as a humble shopkeeper with the best intentions for his patrons, grandfatherly in a way, while hiding a far more insidious intent. Von Sydow perfectly captured the personification of an evil spirit hoping to enthrall a small town by preying upon their desire to possess their most “needful thing”. I was hoping perhaps we’d see von Sydow return as the shopkeeper, a cameo perhaps, in Stephen King’s Castle Rock. But sadly, it seems that day will not come.
Sydow would again be peppered throughout my ’90s and ’00s viewing experiences. He took on roles in Judge Dredd, Minority Report, What Dreams May Come, and Shutter Island. He was immediately recognizable to me, whether by sight or the sound of his voice, and I never ceased to be delighted to find him playing any part, large or small. I among many, many fans will miss him.
This article is a guest post by Tim Gulics. For more Word of the Nerd entertainment news, including obituaries, click here.