On Friday last week, tragedy struck not only the world of performative arts, but Canadian culture too with the death of Christopher Plummer.
It is difficult to sum up the life of any person in a short article, much less Christopher Plummer’s, whose achievements in his ninety-one years bordered immortal right up until his death, making his death almost shocking despite his age. Plummer’s career in the performance arts spanned a mind-boggling nine different decades, and in that time, he won every major acting award imaginable, to the point that he is the only Canadian to win the so-called Triple Crown of acting, an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar.
Plummer began his career, as actors many do, with stage productions, reportedly landing his first professional role in 1948. Plummer’s love for theatre remained throughout his life, featuring in at least 16 major stage productions, two of which, Cyrano and Barrymore, landed him Best Actor Tony Awards, one each in the Musical and Play categories. To this day, that achievement stands as one of the most distinguishing testimonials to his versatility as an actor.
His theatrical talents hardly went unnoticed, as Plummer transitioned to television in 1953 (the same year he first performed on Broadway) with his onscreen debut being on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation production of Shakespeare’s Othello. From there, Plummer landed countless roles in the coming decades earning him ongoing acclaim and two Emmy Awards before the turn of the century.
Of course, it is his contributions to cinema for which Plummer is best known. His filmography is simply staggering, yet there is no debating that any discussion of his broader film career must start with only his fourth cinematic role, The Sound of Music.
Plummer has been a surprisingly vocal critic of the film that essentially launched his near-incomparable film career. Of the film itself, Plummer had previously described The Sound of Music as “so awful and sentimental and gooey”, even going so far as to mockingly call it “The Sound of Mucus”, stating in no uncertain terms that trying to make his character, Captain Georg von Trapp, interesting “was a bit like flogging a dead horse.”
Regardless of his distaste for The Sound of Music, its influence resonated in a manner that Plummer certainly never expected. In the same interview it is noted that his role as Georg von Trapp helped land his first Oscar-nominated role as Leo Tolstoy in 2009’s The Last Station, which the film’s writer and director, Michael Hoffman, acknowledged himself.
Yet, it is truly astonishing that such an accomplished and respected actor only landed his first Oscar nod just after turning eighty. While he failed to come away with an award that night, he would not have to wait long as he would go on to win Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Beginners two years later, in the process setting the record as the oldest winner of an acting Oscar at the age of eighty-two. As if this record were not enough, Plummer would later set another in 2018 for the oldest nominee in an acting category, aged eighty-eight years-old, for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, with this being his third and final Oscar nomination.
In case you missed that, Christopher Plummer earned all three of his career Oscar nominations in his eighties. Let that sink in for a moment. He had won every other award prior, but still had more to prove, earning the recognition he deserved for the charmed career he led, whilst working with some of the most renowned directors in the world, such as Robert Wise, Terrence Mallick, David Fincher, Spike Lee, Atom Egoyan, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, and the aforementioned Ridley Scott, to name a few.
Normally, an article on a multi-generational talent such as Plummer would end on a high note like that, but if all his performative talents in theatre, television and film were not enough, he was also an exceptionally talented voice artist. Plummer’s voice work proved time and again that his effortlessly commanding aura did not require his physical presence. Surprisingly, though, aside from a few scattered voice roles in the eighties and nineties, it was not until late in his career, in what is one of his most memorable voice performances as the villain Charles Muntz in Pixar’s 2009 animated feature Up, that Plummer took a noticeably active role in voice work.
While Christopher Plummer is no longer with us, much like The Sound of Music (regardless of what he thought), his immense body of work will remain timeless. Not only is he already remembered as one of the most revered thespians of the past century, but he is unquestionably Canada’s most celebrated actor.