Christopher Plummer: A life well lived

Christopher Plummer, the revered Canadian actor best known for his role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, has died, he was 91.

His family confirmed the news, saying he died peacefully at home in Connecticut with his wife of 53 years, Elaine Taylor, by his side.

Lou Pitt, his long-time friend and manager of 46 years, remembered him as "an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession".

"He was a national treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots.

"Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come.

"He will forever be with us."

Sound of Music co-star Dame Julie Andrews said in a statement to the PA news agency: "The world has lost a consummate actor today and I have lost a cherished friend.

"I treasure the memories of our work together and all the humour and fun we shared through the years."

Illustrious career

Born Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer in Toronto in December 1929, he was an only child and was exposed to the arts by his mother at an early age.

He first studied the piano before devoting himself to acting, having decided that playing the piano professionally "was very lonely and very hard work"

He played almost all the leading Shakespearean roles – mostly in Canada, at the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare festival. He also had brief spells with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre in Britain, while maintaining a film career that never looked back after a debut in Sidney Lumet’s theatrical comedy Stage Struck (1958), alongside Henry Fonda and Susan Strasberg. He was nominated for a Tony the following year and eventually won the award in 1974 for playing Cyrano de Bergerac.

He won his second in 1997 for playing fellow actor John Barrymore in Barrymore.

As head of the von Trapp family in one of the most popular movies of all time, he played an authoritative character, yet under that often serious exterior, was a charm few actors could pull off.

Despite the popularity of Sound of Music, Plummer never liked the film. He refused to participate in the 40th anniversary get-together, but softened for the 45th, acknowledging the film’s appeal while saying it was never really his “cup of tea”. He dubbed it “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M”.

Other roles

He played the villainous Klingon in the sixth Star Trek film and played TV anchorman Mike Wallace in 1999's The Insider.

He also played Sherlock Holmes in Murder By Decree and appeared with Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther.

His theatre sightings became rare in the 1980s, when he played the satanic cardinal in the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983), but he played both Iago and Macbeth on Broadway (in 1982 and 1988) and appeared in Harold Pinter’s elegiac No Man’s Land in 1994.

In 2017 Plummer was asked by Ridley Scott to appear in All the Money in the World, which he had already completed with Spacey.

Following the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Spacey, the film's makers decided against releasing the film with his original performance.

Plummer shot his scenes in a matter of days and was subsequently nominated for an Oscar, a Bafta and a Golden Globe.

Plummer’s screen career took a positive turn in the late 2000s and in in 2010, he received his first Oscar nomination, for the Tolstoy biopic The Last Station. Although he lost out to Christoph Waltz for the best supporting actor statuette, the nomination sparked an interest in his work, and two years later, he won the Oscar in the same category for Beginners, where he portrayed 9ⁿ a man who comes out as gay in his senior years. At 82, he remains the oldest actor to win an Oscar.

He was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada in 1968 and in 2001 received a governor general’s award for lifetime artistic achievement. He was married three times, to Tammy Grimes, Patricia Lewis and Elaine Taylor, and had a daughter, the actor Amanda Plummer, with Grimes.

Tributes poured in for him, with Ridley Scott saying: “What a guy. What a talent. What a life,”

"I was fortunate enough to work with him less than 2 years ago and had a wonderful experience. My heartfelt condolences go to Elaine. He will be really missed.”

Helen Mirren, who starred with Plummer in The Last Station, also shared the following: “He was a mighty force both as man and actor. He was an actor in the 19th century meaning of the word — his commitment to his profession.

"His art was total, theatre being a constant and the most important part of the totality of his drive to engage with storytelling. He was fearless, energetic, courageous, knowledgeable, professional and a monument to what an actor can be. A great actor in the truest sense.”

One of Plummer's last screen appearances came in 2019 comedy Knives Out, in which he played a mystery novelist who dies under curious circumstances.

Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, K Callan, Ana de Armas, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Toni Collette and Katherine Langford also starred in Rian Johnson's hit whodunnit.

Like many big stars, he was sometimes known for being bad-tempered, or “difficult”, though the longevity and range of his career suggests he was more personable than temperamental.

An appearance in Malcolm X

He wasn’t adverse to cinematic populism and this is witnessed in roles such as – musical comedy Lock Up Your Daughters!, in 1969 and The Return Of The Pink Panther in 1975. However, it was in films such as Malcolm X in 1992 and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys in 1995 that Plummer continued to build a reputation as a charismatic actor with a distinct on-screen presence, which afforded him a respected and acclaimed final few decades.

An appearance on Conan O'Brien