Max Von Sydow

Stage and movie actor

The legendary Swedish-born, French television, stage and movie actor is one of the most admired actors of both the last century and the early years of this one.

The brilliant Max von Sydow is widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation. He sustained a 70-year career in European and American cinema, television and theatre, and was the first Swedish actor to become an international movie star. He appeared in more than 150 films and several television series in multiple languages.

Some of von Sydow’s memorable roles was as Christ in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, an Exorcist priest, and the knight Antonius Block, who plays chess with Death in the 1957 fantasy ‘The Seventh Seal’. In his later years, he appeared in a Star Wars movie, as well as in the sixth season of the HBO fantasy-adventure series Game of Thrones. He even lent his deep, rich voice to The Simpsons.

Max von Sydow received two Academy Award nominations for his performances in Pelle the Conqueror and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011). He received the Royal Foundation of Sweden’s Cultural Award in 1954, and was made a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2005. He was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur on 17 October 2012.

On 8 March, 2020, Max Von Sydow died aged 90 at his home in Provence, France.

Name:   Max  von Sydow
Born:   10 April 1929
Star Sign: Aries
Died:   8 March 2020
Birthplace: Lund, Skåne,
Country: Sweden
DetailsOther Names
Carl Adolf
Carl Wilhelm von Sydow
Baroness Maria Margareta von Rappe
Married: Catherine Brelet since 1997 until his death. In 1951 married Swedish actress, Christina Inga Britta but divorced in 1979. They had two sons, Clas and Henrik.
Four sons: Clas, Henrik, and adopted sons - Yvan and Cédric

Childhood and Early Life
Max von Sydow was born Carl Adolf "Max" von Sydow in Lund, Skåne, Sweden on 10 April 1929. He was the only child of Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, an ethnologist and professor at the University of Lund and Baroness Maria Margareta von Rappe, a schoolteacher.

Max's father was a master at telling folk tales and adventures, and this prompted Max's imagination, which led to an interest in make-believe. As a youngster, Max attended Lund Cathedral School, where he learned English and German.

Education and Military
Originally expected to pursue a career in law, von Sydow became interested in acting after seeing a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' during a class trip to Malmö. This prompted him to start an amateur theatrical group along with his school friends.

Von Sydow served two years in the Swedish military with the Army Quartermaster Corps, where he adopted the name "Max" from the star performer of a flea circus he saw.

Pursue Acting
After his military service, von Sydow attended the Royal Dramatic Theatre's (Dramaten) Acting school in Stockholm, from 1948 to 1951, alongside the likes of Lars Ekborg and Ingrid Thulin. While at the Dramaten, Max von Sydow made his screen debut in Only A Mother (1949), followed by Miss Julie (1951) both directed by Alf Sjoberg.

In 1951, von Sydow joined the Norrköping-Linköping Municipal Theatre, appearing in nine plays including 'Peer Gynt.' He made his stage debut in a small part in the Goethe play Egmont. In 1951, while still in Stockholm, Mr. von Sydow married Kerstin Olin, an actress, with whom he had two sons, Clas and Henrik.

Malmö City Theatre
In 1953, von Sydow moved on to the City Theatre in Hälsingborg. He played eleven parts in a two-year stint, including Prospero in 'The Tempest' and the titular role of the Pirandello play 'Henry IV.' His theatrical work won him critical recognition, and in 1954, he received the Royal Foundation of Sweden's Cultural Award.

In 1955, von Sydow moved to Malmö and joined the Malmö City Theatre, whose chief director was Ingmar Bergman. Von Sydow was one of the Ingmar Bergman's favourite actors.

Bergman films
The colossal production of Henrik Ibsen’s allegedly ‘unperformable’ Peer Gynt 1957, directed by Bergman and with von Sydow in the title role (on stage for five hours!), ranks among the greatest moments in the history of Swedish theatre.

Von Sydow starred in more than a dozen films directed by Ingmar Bergman, most notably as the knight in The Seventh Seal (1957), The Magician (1958) and The Virgin Spring (1960). Von Sydow went on to act in more films than theatre, and worked on an international front more than in Sweden.

Memorial Roles
During the mid-60s, Max von Sydow signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to make seven films. He portraying Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); and a fanatical missionary in Hawaii (1966). He played a Nazi, first in 'The Quiller Memorandum' in 1966 and in John Huston's 'Victory.' Von Sydow's most popular roles during his first 10 years as an international film star were in 'The Exorcist 'and Sydney Pollack's - 'Three Days of the Condor.'

In the late 1960s he returned to Sweden to make another series of films with Bergman and another master Swedish director, Jan Troell. He appeared in Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf” (1968), “Shame” (1968), “The Passion of Anna” (1969) and “The Touch” (1971) and went on to star with Liv Ullmann in “The Emigrants” (1971) and “The New Land” (1972),

Variety of Film Roles
In 1982, von Sydow appeared in the Swedish film Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (The Flight of the Eagle). He had memorable moments in films such as - ' Never Say Never Again' (1983), Dreamscape (1984) and 'Hannah and Her Sisters' (1986) and Oscar-nominated performance in Pelle erovraren (Pelle the Conqueror).

Some of his finest performances were in numerous international films, including the American productions Awakenings (1990), A Kiss Before Dying (1991), What Dreams May Come (1998), and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999).

21st Century Film Roles
At the beginning of the 21st century, von Sydow appeared in Minority Report (2002) and Le Scaphandre et le papillon (2007; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). His supporting role in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) earned him a second Oscar nomination.

In 2014, von Sydow played a priest in The Letters,, a Mother Teresa biopic. In 2015, von Sydow joined the cast of the sci-fi epic Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The following year, he portrayed the Three-Eyed Raven in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. His later movies included The Command (2018; also called Kursk).

Awards and Recognitions
Max von Sydow became one of Sweden's most admired and professional actors and is the only male Swedish actor to receive an Oscar nomination. He was nominated twice: for Pelle the Conqueror (1987) in 1988, and for 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' in 2012.

Von Sydow received the Guldbagge Award for Best Director in his directing debut, the drama film Katinka in 1988. In 2016, he joined the sixth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones as the Three-eyed Raven, which earned him his Prime-time Emmy Award nomination.

Family and Marriage
Max Von Sydow married Swedish actress, Christina Olin in 1951 and had two sons, Clas and Henrik. In 1979, the couple divorced. In 1997, he married French filmmaker Catherine Brelet with whom he adopted Brelet's two children, Cédric and Yvan, from her previous marriage. He became a French citizen and for the last decade, he lived in France.

Max von Sydow was offered the title role in the first James Bond film Dr. No (1962), which went to Joseph Wiseman.

He has lived in Los Angeles, California, Rome, Italy and Paris, France.

von Sydow was one of the few actors to have played both God (in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)) and the Devil (in Needful Things (1993)).

He was fluent in a number of languages, including Swedish, English, French and Italian.

Most of his ancestry was Swedish. His parents also both had more distant German roots, and his mother had a remote Scottish ancestor.

Max von Sydow is the only male Swedish actor to be nominated for an Oscar.

As an experienced actor, Max Von Sydow played many roles, in all genres. He never retired from acting.

Von Sydow was one of the favorite actors of the Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman and appeared in twelve Bergman films, most notably as the knight in The Seventh Seal.

During his military service, he performed a sketch in which he played a flea called Max. So when critics kept misspelling his name, he decided to change it and thought, 'Ah! Max!'

Von Sydow took six months to get back to normal after 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' (1965) playing Christ.

"Producers are not gamblers. They want a good return on their investment."

"The more I had to act like a saint, the more I felt like being a sinner."

"I just feel I shouldn't work too much, because there are so many other things to do."

"There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child."

"A vacation spot out of season always has a very special magic."

"Filming is repetition and many takes."

"I'm getting too old to play some parts, but I'm still greedy."

"I think it's good that we're sometimes reminded of important events in history."

"You cannot study acting in books. Do it, do it, do it. And watch good actors. See what they are doing and how they are doing it."

"There are those who want to believe but can't, and there are those who believe as children and it's no problem for them at all."


Max Von Sydow died on 8 March 2020, at the age of 90 at his home in Provence, France. No cause was given. He is survived by his wife, Catherine and his four sons. The talented Swedish-French actor, will be remembered by different people for different roles.

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