Christopher Plummer’s Range Defined Movie Greatness For Seven Decades

, Christopher Plummer’s Range Defined Movie Greatness For Seven Decades
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Academy Award winner and Hollywood legend Christopher Plummer has died at the age of 91. In a prolific and distinguished career spanning seven decades, Plummer starred in high-profile films like The Sound of Music and The Man Who Would be King; in 2011, he became the oldest person ever to win an Academy Award for his role in Beginners. Plummer’s family confirmed that he died peacefully at home in Connecticut, with his wife of 53 years, Elaine Taylor, by his side. Taylor reported that Plummer’s cause of death was a blow to the head as a result of a fall.

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“Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old-fashioned manners, self-deprecating humor, and the music of words,” said Lou Pitt, Plummer’s longtime friend and manager of 46 years. “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.”

Born in Toronto in 1929, Plummer got his start as an actor primarily through the works of Shakespeare. In the late fifties and early sixties, he was a mainstay on stages in Stratford and on Broadway, playing everyone from Prince Hal to Richard III to Hamlet. His breakthrough film role came in 1965, when he portrayed Captain Von Trapp in the timeless film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the highlights of such a long and varied career, but we’ve taken the liberty of selecting some of our favorite Plummer moments and featuring them below.

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One of Plummer’s most memorable moments in The Sound of Music is his solo song: “Edelweiss,” a popular and oft-covered standard that lives on indelibly in our cultural imagination. However, it wasn’t Plummer singing the part; it was Bill Lee, a ghost singer. Plummer remembered being “furious” when he learned that his voice was to be dubbed, telling The Guardian in 2018, “I’d worked on my singing for so long, but in those days, they’d have someone trained who would sing through dubbing. I said: ‘The only reason I did this bloody thing was so I could do a musical on stage on film!’”

This was far from the first time Plummer expressed distaste for The Sound of Music. He often referred to the film as “S&M,” or, “The Sound of Mucus,” and bristled at being typecast for what endured as his most famous role.

“That sentimental stuff is the most difficult for me to play, especially because I’m trained vocally and physically for Shakespeare,” Plummer told People in 1982. “To do a lousy part like von Trapp, you have to use every trick you know to fill the empty carcass of the role. That damn movie follows me around like an albatross.”

Later in life, Plummer’s antipathy for The Sound of Music mellowed. “I’ve made my peace with it,” he told The Guardian. “It annoyed the hell out of me at first. I thought: ‘Don’t these people ever see another movie? Is this the only one they’ve ever seen?’ … But I’m grateful to the film, and to Robert Wise, who’s a great director and a gentleman, and to Julie [Andrews], who’s remained a terrific friend.”

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Sure, “Edelweiss” is all well and good, but what could beat Captain Von Trapp shredding a Nazi flag like printer paper?

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In The Insider, Michael Mann’s prophetic 1999 film based on true events about a tobacco industry whistleblower’s story making national news, Plummer played legendary newscaster Mike Wallace. In this scene, he squares off against Al Pacino, who plays 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, then berates a member of the CBS brass. Come for the stellar performance, but stay for Plummer’s excellent delivery of the line, “Who told you your incompetent little fingers have the requisite skills to edit me?”

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Shakespearean actors have always fared well in Star Trek projects; just ask actors like Plummer and Patrick Stewart. In Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, Plummer played the Klingon General Chang, a comically evil foe of Captain Kirk, proving just how limitless his range was.

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In his Oscar-winning role in Beginners, Plummer played Hal, an elderly man diagnosed with terminal cancer who comes out to his son after the death of his wife. In this poignant scene, Hal asks his son Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor) if Oliver ever suspected that his father was gay. Hal speaks movingly about his long marriage, and about the painful complexity of hiding one’s true identity for decades. It’s easy to see why Plummer won an Oscar for this powerful performance.

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In 2011, Plummer became the oldest person ever to win an Academy Award at age 82. Looking affectionately at the Oscar statuette, he quipped, “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?”

He went on to say, “When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank you speech. It was so long ago. Mercifully for you, I’ve forgotten it.” Plummer went on to receive another Academy Award nomination for his role in All the Money in the World in 2017.

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In Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Plummer played Harlan Thrombey, a multimillionaire author and patriarch to a family of conniving vipers. In this gripping scene, as his death by inadvertent poisoning looms, Harlan instructs his nurse, Marta (played by Ana de Armas), how to escape the crime scene without drawing suspicion. Plummer’s weighty narration has a make or break effect on the suspenseful scene.

Plummer is survived by his wife, Taylor, and his daughter, actress Amanda Plummer. His like won’t be seen in Hollywood again.

Adrienne Westenfeld
Assistant Editor
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.

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