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Entertainment Weekly

Movies

Bruno Ganz, who famously played Hitler in Downfall, dies at 77

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Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor behind such notable roles as Adolf Hitler in Downfall and the angel Damien in Wings of Desire, died Saturday at his home in Zurich, Switzerland, his rep confirmed in a statement to EW. He was 77.

“It is with a heavy heart that we confirm our client Bruno Ganz passed away on Feb. 16 at his home in Zurich after his battle with colon cancer,” a statement reads. “He was in the loving company of his family at the time. We will forever cherish the memories and celebrate his remarkable contribution to the world of cinema and theater. Please respect the families wish for privacy at this time.”

Per The New York Times, Ganz was diagnosed with colon cancer while working at the Salzburg Festival in Austria last summer.

Born March 22, 1941, Ganz decided to pursue acting as a career when he entered university, focusing on both stage and screen.

On stage, he helped found the Berliner Schaubühne ensemble in 1979, he was named actor of the year by German magazine Theater heute, and he famously played Dr. Heinrich Faust in 2000’s Faust, Part One and Part Two (for which his physically demanding role resulted in injures during rehearsals that delayed the production).

On screen, he received numerous awards throughout Europe from organizations like the German Film Awards, London Critics Circle Film Awards, Munich Film Festival, Bavarian Film Awards, and Swiss Film Prize.

Ganz’s immense film career began with 1960’s The Man in the Black Derby from Swiss screenwriter and director Karl Suter. For years, he would work across multiple mediums, but he is perhaps most known internationally for 1987’s Wings of Desire, playing an angel who gives up immortality when he falls in love with a mortal in the Wim Wenders film, and 2004’s Downfall, playing Hitler during his final days in a Berlin bunker.

“My first reaction was I was interested immediately because, as actors say, it’s a challenge. It was really one,” Ganz told a British journalist of playing Hitler in a now archived interview, via TheArtsDesk.com. “But I thought, you know, you are tackling something quite difficult and if it’s going to be seen by many people throughout the world you will be identified with the one who played Hitler and that’s not easy. But I was not scared to get closer to that decade of the time historically and I was not scared to get close to Hitler. I thought I might discover that Hitler was not really a big man… but the difficulty is to deal with that image, that icon, that kind of myth that Hitler still is for everybody.”

More recently, Ganz appeared in 2011’s Unknown with Liam Neeson, 2013’s The Counsellor for director Ridley Scott, Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, and Mitko Panov’s I Witness in 2018. Two more roles, in Terrence Malick’s Radegund and Dominik Graf’s Golem will be released posthumously.

In a statement, Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick called Ganz “one of the greatest and most versatile actors ‘who inspired generations of film fans. We are incredibly saddened by the loss of a long-standing festival companion and outstanding figure of the international film history.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Ganz died on Friday, Feb. 15. He passed away on Saturday, Feb. 16. 

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