(Robert Berkvist’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/9; photo: BFI.)
Widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, Mr. von Sydow formed a close relationship with the director Ingmar Bergman and became an elder pop culture star.
Max von Sydow, the tall, blond Swedish actor who cut a striking figure in American movies but was most identified with the signature work of a fellow Swede, the director Ingmar Bergman, has died on Sunday. He was 90.
His wife, Catherine von Sydow, confirmed the death in an emailed statement. No cause was given.
Widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, Mr. von Sydow became an elder pop culture star in his later years, appearing in a “Star Wars” movie in 2015 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.”
By then he had become a familiarly austere presence in popular movies like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and, more recently, Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
But to film lovers the world over he was most enduringly associated with Bergman.
If ever an actor was born to inhabit the World According to Bergman, it was Mr. von Sydow. Angular and lanky at 6-foot-3, possessing a gaunt face and hooded, icy blue eyes, he not only radiated power but also registered a deep sense of Nordic angst, helping to give flesh to Bergman’s often bleak but hopeful and sometimes comic vision of the human condition in classics like “The Seventh Seal” and “The Virgin Spring.”
In “The Seventh Seal” (1958), Mr. von Sydow played Antonius Block, a strapping medieval knight who returns from the Crusades to his plague-ravaged homeland only to encounter the stern, ghostly pale, black-hooded figure of Death, played by Bengt Ekerot. To stave off the inevitable, Block challenges Death to a game of chess, and in the long intervals between moves he searches the countryside for some shred of human goodness.