Friends, I am going to go ahead and say what I always do… and far too much of late, there is no joy in writing these types of articles. Furthermore much like with Kirk Douglas and Tim Skelly – the news of Max von Sydow passing away is like a punch to the gut. While it is true that 90 years old of age is a good run… it doesn’t diminish the pain in knowing we will never again see a new film or TV show with the esteemed Max von Sydow making an appearance. At the time of his passing which was on March 8th at his home in Provence, France – Sydow had amassed 163 acting credits in television and movies over 69 years. Working with the likes of Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, The Magician), George Stevens (The Greatest Story Ever Told), Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor), William Friedkin (The Exorcist), and many, many more. While he was most assuredly in films that played at the 62 Drive-In of my youth – I was too young to take notice of him – that is until 1980 with Flash Gordon where I first learned of Max von Sydow thanks to his role as none other than Ming the Merciless, ruler of all the Universe.
I next saw him thanks to the Movie Channel when it aired 1981’s Victory, where Max von Sydow played Major Karl Von Steiner and appeared alongside Michael Caine, Pele, and Sylvester Stallone. The following year I was pleased to see him one again on the big screen… although in something of a cameo with John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian. Sydow portrayed King Osric and proved in his small scene – his death later in the film was cut out – that a skilled actor can do much in less than three minutes.
I would actually see Max von Sydow in his impressive role as Father Merrin from 1973’s The Exorcist around 1980 – far too young I think now to understand the implications of what the film was presenting. He would appear in other ’80s films that I feel would be correct in saying are cult classics – like 1983’s Strange Brew, or both Dreamscape and Dune in ’84. Max von Sydow provided the voice of Vigo the Carpathian, Sorrow of Moldavia, as well as the Despised and Unholy for 1989’s Ghostbusters II. It was in ’93 that he portrayed the seemingly kindly curio shop keeper, Leland Gaunt in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things.
I’ve read online that in particular in his early years, Sydow didn’t enjoy being typecast as it were in playing the villain roles – if you’ve seen Needful Things for yourself you know it might be because he just did it so well. From Judge Dredd, Minority Report, Shutter Island, Robin Hood, and of course Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens to name a few – Max von Sydow continued to shine. It was just four years ago that he appeared in three episodes of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones series as the Three-Eyed Raven.
Max von Sydow has a stunning number of films and TV shows as his legacy – and as always, we will dim the lights in the auditorium in his honor. Closing out this article I am going to share with you the touching video that Turner Classic Movies uploaded to mark his passing.