‘Sound of Music,’ ‘All the Money in the World’ actor Christopher Plummer dies at age 91

Matthew Wilson
 
| USA TODAY

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Christopher Plummer, Oscar-winning actor, dies at 91

Christopher Plummer starred in “The Sound of Music” alongside Julie Andrews and, more recently, in “All the Money in the World.”

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Christopher Plummer, who graced the stage, movie theaters and television screens for six decades, died at 91.

Plummer died at his home in Connecticut, with wife Elaine Taylor by his side, ICM Partners talent agency spokesperson Kate Cafaro told USA TODAY.

“Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self deprecating humor and the music of words,” said Lou Pitt, Plummer’s longtime friend and manager of 46 years. “Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come.” 

Over more than 50 years in the industry, Plummer enjoyed varied roles ranging from the film “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” to the voice of the villain in 2009′s “Up” and as a canny lawyer in Broadway’s “Inherit the Wind.” In 2019 he starred as murdered mystery novelist in Rian Johnson’s whodunnit “Knives Out” and in the TV suspense drama series “Departure.”

“I get antsy if I’m not working,” Plummer told USA TODAY in 2012. “After three or four weeks of leisure time, I’ll start drumming my fingers and thinking, ‘OK – let’s get on with it.'”

Plummer will perhaps be best remembered by audiences for his role of Capt. Von Trapp, who flees the Nazis with his folk-singing family and nanny (Julie Andrews), in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” The film was maligned by critics upon its release, but reception changed over the years. It is now considered a classic, though Plummer lamented his role as “humorless and one-dimensional.” Plummer spent the rest of his life referring to the film as “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M.”

“We tried so hard to put humor into it,” he told The Associated Press in 2007. “It was almost impossible. It was just agony to try to make that guy not a cardboard figure.”

The role catapulted Plummer to stardom, but he never took to leading men parts, despite his silver hair, good looks and ever-so-slight English accent. He preferred character parts, considering them more meaty. His memoir in 2012 was titled “In Spite of Myself.”

‘What a talent’: Ridley Scott, the Academy, more pay tribute to Christopher Plummer

Plummer made headlines in 2017 for replacing Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s already shot “All the Money In the World” after Spacey was accused of sexual assault. Scenes from the film were reshot with Plummer in the role only a month before it was released. The film would net Plummer his third Academy Award nomination.

On playing the film’s antagonist, Plummer told USA TODAY, “If you’re going to play a villain, it’s much more interesting to find all the nice qualities of the person. Or even give him some, as a gift.”

With a long and storied career, Plummer once had the distinction of being the oldest recipient of an Academy Award (James Ivory became the oldest recipient in 2018), for which he won in 2012 at the age of 82 for his portrayal of an elderly man who comes out as gay after his wife dies in “Beginners.”

Before his triumphant Oscar ceremony, Plummer told USA TODAY, “It’s lovely to be nominated for awards. And it’s lovely to win them. But you can’t be preoccupied with them.” Upon winning for best supporting a, he turned to his gold statuette and joked, “You’re only two years older than me darling, where have you been all of my life? (At birth) I was already rehearsing my Academy acceptance speech, but it was so long ago, mercifully for you I’ve forgotten it.”

In addition to his film work, Plummer was a celebrated thespian, who garnered acclaim in particular for his turns as some of Shakepeare’s most famous protagonists and villains. In particular his Hamlet, Iago and a “King Lear” at the Lincoln Center in 2004 are well-remembered.

Out of six nominations, Plummer took home two Tony Awards, the first in 1974 as best actor in a musical for the title role in “Cyrano,” and the second in 1997 as best actor in a play for “Barrymore.” He also has two Emmys to his name. 

His other famous roles included,the famed detective Sherlock Holmes in “Murder by Decree,” a psychotic thief in “The Silent Partner,” Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station” and empathetic Dr. Rosen in “A Beautiful Mind.”

He will also be remembered for his generosity, aiding an up-and-coming Donald Sutherland in starting his career. After starring in “The Dirty Dozen,” Sutherland wanted to move to Hollywood to land more roles but didn’t have the money, so he called Plummer.

“I said I couldn’t call,” Sutherland told USA TODAY in 2018, but eventually he did. “I think I woke him up. I said, ‘Chris, it’s Donald Sutherland. I have a chance of having a career if I can get to California, but I don’t have any money.’ He said, ‘Do you have a pencil? Write down this name and phone number. Call him in the morning and there will be $1,500 for you.’ ”

Born Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer on Dec. 13, 1929, in Toronto, Plummer was the only child of John Orme Plummer and Isabella Mary Abbott. His great grandfather was John Abbott, the third prime minister of Canada. His parents divorced shortly after his birth and he was raised by his mother and aunts.

Plummer began his career on stage and in radio in Canada in the 1940s and made his Broadway debut in 1954 in “The Starcross Story.” While still a relative unknown, he was cast as Hamlet in a 1963 performance co-starring Robert Shaw and Michael Caine. It was taped by the BBC at Elsinore Castle in Denmark, where the play is set, and released in 1964. It won an Emmy.

Plummer married Tony-winning actress Tammy Grimes in 1956, and fathered his only child, actress Amanda Plummer, in 1957. Like both her parents, she also won a Tony, in 1982 for “Agnes of God.” (Grimes won two Tonys, for “Private Lives” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”)

Plummer and Grimes divorced in 1960. A five-year marriage to Patricia Lewis ended in 1967. Plummer married his third wife, dancer Taylor, in 1970, and credited her with helping him overcome a drinking problem.

“I was about to go out at the end of the ’60s,” Plummer told USA TODAY. “I was not in good shape. Had I gone on boozing and being an idiot like I was, I would have dropped dead.”

“I sometimes hate it when people win awards and they go on and on, thanking God and their parents and their servants,” Plummer went on. “But you find that you have to acknowledge the people who keep you going – and my Lord, Elaine is certainly guilty of that. She is everything to me in terms of my own strength.”

He was given Canada’s highest civilian honor when he was invested as Companion of the Order of Canada by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968, and was inducted into the American Theatre’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

Contributing:Bill Keveney, Andrea Mandell, Kelly Lawler, Elysa Gardner, The Associated Press

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