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Christopher Plummer, 'The Sound of Music' star and Oscar winner, dies at 91

Plummer, best-known for 'The Sound of Music' , was also renowned for his versatility in films ranging from 'The Man Who Would Be King' and 'The Insider' to 'Beginners'

Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career as a stage and screen actor. Photo via Getty
Christopher Plummer had a long and varied career as a stage and screen actor. Photo via Getty

Christopher Plummer, a patrician Canadian who starred as widower Captain von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in the blockbuster 1965 musical The Sound Of Music and in 2012 became the oldest actor to win an Oscar, has died at 91, his longtime friend and manager said on Friday. "The world has lost a consummate actor today and I have lost a cherished friend," Andrews said in a statement. "I treasure the memories of our work together and all the humor and fun we shared through the years."

Plummer passed away peacefully at his home in Connecticut with his wife Elaine Taylor at his side. “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," manager Lou Pitt said in a statement.

Plummer, an accomplished Shakespearean actor honored for his varied stage, television and film work in a career that spanned more than six decades, was best known for his role in The Sound Of Music, which at the time eclipsed Gone With the Wind (1939) as the top-earning movie ever. He flourished in a succession of meaty roles after age 70 — a time in life when most actors merely fade away. At age 82, he became the oldest actor to get a competitive Oscar when he won for his supporting role in Beginners as an elderly man who comes out of the closet as gay.

"You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer, who was born in 1929, purred to his golden statuette at the 2012 Oscars ceremony. "Where have you been all my life?"

One of his last major roles was as in the dark comedy Knives Out in 2019. "This is truly heartbreaking," Knives Out co-star Chris Evans said on Twitter. "What an unbelievable loss. Few careers have such longevity and impact. One of my favorite memories from Knives Out was playing piano together in the Thrombey house between set-ups. He was a lovely man and a legendary talent."

Plummer appeared in more than 100 films and also was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Russian author Leo Tolstoy in 2009's The Last Station. He won two Tony Awards for his Broadway work, two Emmy Awards for TV work and performed for some of the world's top theater companies.

But for many fans, his career was defined by his performance as an stern widower in The Sound Of Music — a role he called "a cardboard figure, humorless and one-dimensional." In his 2008 autobiography In Spite Of Myself, Plummer refers to the movie with the mischievous acronym "S&M."

It took him four decades to change his view of the film and embrace it as a "terrific movie" that made him proud.

"Originally I had accepted Robert Wise's offer simply because I wanted to find out what it was like to be in a musical comedy," Plummer wrote in his book. "I had a secret plan to one day turn Cyrano de Bergerac into a Broadway musical. 'S&M' would therefore be a perfect workout in preparation for such an event."

He said he had never sung before — "not even in the shower" — before taking a role that included crooning the song "Edelweiss." He blamed his own "vulgar streak" for the desire to star in a big, splashy Hollywood extravaganza.

"And yes, all right, I'll admit it, I was also a pampered, arrogant, young bastard, spoiled by too many great theater roles," he wrote. "Ludicrous though it may seem, I still harbored the old-fashioned stage actor's snobbism toward moviemaking."

Late-career renaissance

Plummer's late-career renaissance began with director Michael Mann's The Insider (1999), in which he portrayed CBS News interviewer Mike Wallace, acting alongside Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. That was followed by triumphs in director Ron Howard's Academy Award best picture winner A Beautiful Mind (2001), director Spike Lee's Inside Man (2006), Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (both 2009) and Barrymore and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (both 2011).

In 2017, Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey as oil billionaire J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. The film had been completed when Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct. Plummer re-shot all of Spacey's scenes and received an Oscar nomination for the role.

Plummer was born in Toronto on Dec. 13, 1929, into a privileged railroad family. He was the great-grandson of Sir John Abbott, the third prime minister of Canada. Plummer confessed to a boozy lifestyle with plenty of affairs through the 1960s. He said his third wife, British actress Elaine Taylor, forced him after their 1970 marriage to stop the carousing that consumed some of his peers and friends, such as Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole.

"Yeah, I stopped," he told Britain's Telegraph newspaper in 2010. "Square son of a bitch that I was, coward that I was! No, Elaine did say, 'If you don't quit this stupid over-drinking I'm outta here.' And thank God. She did in a sense save my life."

Plummer's early films included 1965's Inside Daisy Clover with Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, released the same year as The Sound Of Music, The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) with Sophia Loren and Alec Guinness, and Triple Cross (1966). Among his more colorful roles were as an eye-patch-wearing Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and as an urbane jewel thief in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). He said he kicked himself for turning down the Gandalf role in the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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