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Max von Sydow, ‘Exorcist’ actor, dead at 90

Max von Sydow, the legendary Swedish actor, died on Sunday. He was 90.

The entertainer was best known for his iconic portrayal of Father Lankester Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). In his lifetime, von Sydow was featured in a total of more than 100 movies and TV series, including 11 feature-length films directed by the late and legendary Ingmar Bergman.

In his seven-decade-long career, von Sydow starred in The Seventh Seal (1957), Never Say Never Again (1983), David Lynch’s Dune (1984), Minority Report (2002) and Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015), among many other movies.

One of the actor’s final roles was the mystical Three-Eyed Raven in three episodes of Game of Thrones’ sixth season. His performance in the much-beloved HBO series earned him an Emmy nomination in 2016.

(L-R) ‘The Exorcist’, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, 1973.

Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

Von Sydow’s agent, Jean Diamond, confirmed the death to the Associated Press (AP) in a statement on Monday morning. The actor died on March 8, 2020 in Provence, France.

“It is with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max von Sydow,” said Diamond.

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In the wake of the news, thousands of fans of von Sydow’s took to their social media accounts to express not only grief and sadness but fond memories of the actor and share how his work had affected their own lives.

American filmmaker, comedian and comic book writer Kevin Smith took to Twitter, writing: “The legendary actor who gave us both Brewmeister Smith and Ming the Merciless has finally laid down his King in the eternal chess match. Farewell, Max von Sydow.”

The legendary actor who gave us both Brewmeister Smith and Ming the Merciless has finally laid down his King in the eternal chess match. Farewell, Max von Sydow. You were in many much more respected movies than Strange Brew and Flash Gordon but I loved you for those flicks first. https://t.co/ltytehF5Rm

— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) March 9, 2020

American actor Mia Farrow shared some kind words and a photograph.

“Here was Max von Sydow with his dear friend, master cinematographer, Sven Nykvist,” she wrote. “Two great artists. Two true gentlemen. We were working on Bora Bora. I picture Max in heaven wearing his white linen suit, with Sven, Ingmar Bergman, Bibi Andersson, laughing and loving each other.”

Here was Max Von Sydow with his dear friend, master cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. Two great artists. Two true gentlemen. We were working on Bora Bora. I picture Max in heaven wearing his white linen suit, w Sven, Ingmar Bergman, Bibi Andersson, laughing loving each other 💔 pic.twitter.com/ENdcB9bPKZ

— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) March 9, 2020

Here’s what some other fans had to say on Twitter:

Sad to see the passing of Max Von Sydow aged 90. My favourite film of his also starred Dame Julie Andrews and Richard Harris. A brilliant film. pic.twitter.com/UMbHbS75CR

— Ian MacGregor (@macgregor63) March 9, 2020

RIP to Max von Sydow, perhaps the most handsome man in all of cinema IMHO pic.twitter.com/lMC2KHO2RG

— AK (@ANDYCHILIPARTY) March 9, 2020

rest in peace to max von sydow, we lost a king today folks :,( pic.twitter.com/dYPxQLyuhz

— rainbow brite (@barbiesswanlake) March 9, 2020

Woke up to hear that Max von Sydow finally lost that chess match. Pouring one out for my bro Ming the Merciless, one of the best (and best-dressed) movie villains of all time. pic.twitter.com/baMWw3M86d

— Kevin’s Tweets of the Twitless (@Twitless_Kevin) March 9, 2020

Film journalist and critic Nick de Semlyen looked back to von Sydow’s appearance in one of Disney’s latest instalments of the Star Wars franchise.

“When Star Wars came back, it was Max von Sydow who was chosen to deliver the first line of dialogue,” he tweeted. “Smart casting. No matter how fantastical a story, his voice always made it feel real.”

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Though his characters were often sinister, tormented or evil, the soft-spoken von Sydow said he became an actor to overcome his own shyness.

“I was a very shy boy when I was a kid,” he told AP during an interview. “When I started acting in an amateur group in high school, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I suddenly got a tool in my hand that was wonderful.

“I was allowed to express all kinds of strange things that I never dared to express before,” he continued. “Now I could do it with the character as a shield, as a defence and as an excuse. I think that for many years, I used my profession as some kind of a mental therapy.”

Swedish actor Max von Sydow arrives for the screening of ‘The BFG’ during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival, in Cannes, France, 14 May 2016.

Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

Von Sydow was born on April 10, 1929, into a family of academics in the southern Swedish city of Lund. He was baptized Carl Adolf von Sydow but later changed his first name to Max, saying his given name was “not a good name” after the Second World War.

In his youth, the actor studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm and acted in small municipality theatres in Sweden for eight years — an experience he later described as crucial for his career.

“I’m very grateful to the schooling I had in Sweden because in order to learn acting you have to work, work, work,” he said. “I think I owe very much to those years.”

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Von Sydow made his onscreen debut in 1949. He starred in a Swedish film by the name of Only a Mother. Though it wasn’t until The Exorcist that he became a household name, his first-ever Hollywood film was the 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told. He played Jesus.

Throughout his extensive acting career, von Sydow received two Academy Award nominations. The first was in 1988, he earned a Best Actor win thanks to his gripping portrayal of an impoverished farmer in Pelle the Conqueror and again in 2012 for his role as a mute in Extremely Loud Incredibly Close.

Catherine Brelet, left, and Max von Sydow arrive at Night 1 of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

In 2002, von Sydow relinquished his Swedish citizenship in order to become a French citizen. He resided in Provence with his second wife, producer Catherine Brelet, until his death.

In 1951, the actor was married to his first wife, Christina Olin. He is survived by her and their two sons, Clas and Henrik, as well as Brelet and their two sons, Yvan and Cedric.

— With files from the Associated Press