Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who entralled moviegoers with his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in Downfall and the angel Damiel in cult clasic Wings of Desire, has died at the age of 77 in Zurich.
Ganz, hailed as one of the leading theatre and film artists in the German-speaking world, succumbed to cancer on Saturday, his manager said in a statement, adding that his closest family was with him in his final hour.
The son of a Swiss factory worker and an Italian mother, he grew up in Zurich. After getting a first taste of acting as a pupil, Ganz met the German theatre director Peter Stein and worked with him at the Berliner Schaubuehne, a stage that played a key role in the European theatre scene in the 1970s.
In the same decade, Ganz began working on screen projects that were based on works of literature, such as Eric Rohmer’s film The Marquise of O.
In 1987, he played a guardian angel who surrenders his immortality to be with the woman he has come to love in Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire, later remade by Hollywood as City of Angels with Nicolas Cage in the lead role.
But it was Ganz’s role as the maniacal Nazi dictator in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall that lifted him to international acclaim.
His harrowing portrayal of the delusional tyrant’s last days in his Berlin bunker is both a portrait of a madman and an indictment of a fearful German military caste continuing to indulge their leaders’ fantasies even as Russian troops were massing at the city’s edge.
The scene in which Hitler slowly erupts into a rage after his officers inform him of his latest defeats has been not only watched millions of times online, but has also been spoofed seemingly as many times, with users creating new subtitles for Ganz’s unhinged performance.
Ganz was the bearer of the Iffland ring, bestowed on the best German-speaking actor.