Max von Sydow, Actor in The Exorcist and The Seventh Seal, Dead at 90

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Max von Sydow, Actor in <i>The Exorcist</i> and <i>The Seventh Seal</i>, Dead at 90

Swedish-born actor Max von Sydow, known for his roles in films such as The Exorcist and The Seventh Seal, died in his home in France on Sunday. He was 90 years old.

“It is with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max von Sydow,” his agent Jean Diamond said in a statement on Monday, per the AP. The actor’s cause of death was not disclosed.

Von Sydow had an extensive acting career, and was particularly well-known for his work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. He starred in nearly a dozen of Bergman’s films, perhaps most recognizably in Wild Strawberries, Shame and, famously, as a knight who plays a game of chess against the grim reaper in the 1957 film The Seventh Seal.

“I can’t say exactly what influence he’s had on me, but it must be enormous,” said von Sydow in an earlier interview with the AP about his working relationship with Bergman. “We did most of that work when we were much younger. We were free— he hadn’t yet become world famous and I was just a regular stage actor with a few film roles to my credit. We worked hard and had a lot of fun.”

Von Sydow made his Hollywood debut playing Jesus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told. Perhaps his greatest impact on American audiences was his performance as a demon-dispelling priest in William Friedkin’s horror classic The Exorcist.

Overall, the actor had a prolific career, starring in close to 200 films/TV shows and working well into his 80s. He received Academy Award recognition, receiving a nomination for best actor in 1988 for his role as an impoverished father in Pelle the Conqueror and best supporting actor in 2012 for his mute character in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. He also received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the Three-Eyed Raven in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

The irony of his characters often being menacing or tormented is that von Sydow began dabbling in the craft at a young age in order to overcome his own shyness. He formed a theater troupe with his friends after his first performance at age 14 in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which solidified his desire to become a professional actor. He went on to study at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm.

Von Sydow was born on April 10, 1929 in the southern Swedish city of Lund. In 2002, he became a French citizen. He had four sons—Clas and Henrik with his ex-wife, Swedish actress Christina Olin, and Yvan and Cedric with his spouse French filmmaker Catherine Brelet.