In loving memory: Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow, 1929–2020

von Sydow

Photo: Terje Bendixby / NTB scanpix
It has been said by many that Max von Sydow is the only Swede who could successfully portray Norway’s national author Knut Hamsun.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

On March 9, it was with a heavy heart that news bureaus around the world reported of the passing of legendary Swedish actor Max von Sydow on March 8. Not only revered in his home country, von Sydow was beloved in Norway and across the international arena.

von Sydow

Photo: Gunnar Lier / NTB scanpix A portrait of Swedish actor Max von Sydow taken in 1995, when it was announced he had been awarded the role of Knut Hamsun.

Max von Sydow was born in Lund in southern Sweden on April 10, 1929. He began his career in at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm already in 1948. Shortly thereafter, he entered into a long collaboration with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, with a series of leading roles in his films, including the classic The Seventh Seal in 1957, setting the stage for his international career.

During his lifetime, von Sydow made 119 films and appeared in numerous television and stage productions. His international breakthrough came with his portrayal of Jesus in the epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). For fans worldwide, his roles in The Exorcist (1973) and Pelle the Conqueror (1987) stand out, and for Scandinavian Americans, his role in The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972) together with Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann are unforgettable.

Von Sydow was a master of many genres and delighted newer audiences with his performances in the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” (2016).

Von Sydow’s accomplishments earned him numerous awards—too many to list—and as recently as last year, he was honored for a lifetime of achievement at the prestigious Stockholm Film Festival. It has been said by many that he was the only Swede who could successfully portray Norway’s national author Knut Hamsun, and he will be remembered there for his acting mastery in the pan-Nordic production Hamsun (1996).

Von Sydow spent the last year of his life in Paris together with his French wife, Catherine Brelet. He became a French national, but Max von Sydow was truly a citizen of the world and will be missed by his fans everywhere.

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.