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  HOME | Arts & Entertainment

Bruno Ganz, Actor Who Played Empathic Angel, Hitler in Downfall, Dies at 77

GENEVA – Bruno Ganz, the actor who rose to fame for his portrayal of an angel yearning to experience the feeling of mortality and also gave an unforgettable interpretation of a defeated and shaken Adolf Hitler at the end of his life, has died at the age of 77, his agent said.

The Swiss actor died at his home in Zurich late Friday, Patricia Baumbauer confirmed.

Ganz had been diagnosed with intestinal cancer during the summer while he was working at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

He won the Donatello Award, Italy’s version of the Oscar, for his role as a withdrawn waiter in “Bread and Tulips” (2000), an Italian-Swiss comic drama, but the largest body of his work was in German-language films.

Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” (1987) saw him play an angel sent to earth to comfort the dying, but the spirit soon felt so moved by human existence that he longed to experience it for himself.

Another Wenders film, “The American Friend” (1977) saw him act alongside a roguish Dennis Hopper who played the part of a career criminal, and he also performed as a vampire in Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1979).

But it was his role as Hitler in “The Downfall” for which he will be best remembered.

In one scene, Ganz gives an extraordinary performance reflecting Hitler’s odious apoplectic fury as he learned that the war was lost and Soviet tanks and troops were entering Berlin.

His shaking, spluttering rage has since become a meme that has spawned thousands of parodies.

The film, called “Der Untergang” in German, was based on the Third Reich’s final chaotic days in the Berlin bunker.

“I cannot claim to understand Hitler,” Ganz said. “Even the witnesses who had been in the bunker with him were not really able to describe the essence of the man.”

“He had no pity, no compassion, no understanding of what the victims of war suffered,” he added.

Ganz was exceptionally adaptable, as witness his ability to move easily into genres such as science fiction in “The Boys from Brazil” (1978), which starred Laurence Olivier.

His last role was in Lars von Trier’s 2018 film “The House that Jack Built.”

“Ultimately, I could not get to the heart of Hitler because there was none,” he once said.

Ganz is survived by his son Daniel.

 

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