Bruno Ganz

Bruno Ganz (German: [ˈbruːno ˈɡant͡s] (listen); 22 March 1941 – 16 February 2019)[note 1] was a Swiss actor whose career in German television and film productions spanned nearly 60 years. He was known for his collaborations with the directors Werner Herzog, Éric Rohmer, Francis Ford Coppola, and Wim Wenders, earning widespread recognition with his roles as Jonathan Zimmerman in The American Friend (1977), Jonathan Harker in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Damiel the Angel in Wings of Desire (1987).[1]

Bruno Ganz
Ganz in 2011
Born(1941-03-22)22 March 1941
Zürich, Switzerland
Died16 February 2019(2019-02-16) (aged 77)
Wädenswil, Switzerland
Resting placeFriedhof Rehalp, Zürich, Switzerland
Years active1960–2019
Sabine Ganz
(m. 1965, separated)
Partner(s)Ruth Walz

Ganz received renewed international acclaim for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in the Oscar-nominated film Downfall (2004).[2] He also had roles in several English-language films, including The Boys from Brazil (1978), Strapless (1989), The Manchurian Candidate (2004). The Reader (2008), Unknown (2011) and Remember (2015). On stage, Ganz portrayed Dr. Heinrich Faust in Peter Stein's staging of Faust, Part One and Faust, Part Two in 2000.[3]

From 1996 until his death in 2019, Ganz held the Republic of Austria's Iffland-Ring, which passes from actor to actor—each bequeathing the ring to the next holder, judging that actor to be the "most significant and most worthy actor of the German-speaking theatre".[4][5] Ganz was also honored with the Order of Merit of Germany and was made a knight of the French Légion d'honneur.

Early life

Ganz was born on 22 March 1941, in Zürich to a Swiss factory worker father and a northern Italian mother.[6][7][8] He had decided to pursue an acting career by the time he entered university. He was equally drawn to stage and screen but initially enjoyed greater success on the stage.[9][10]


Stage career

Ganz made his theatrical debut in 1961 and devoted himself mainly to the stage for almost the next two decades. In 1970, he helped found the Berliner Schaubühne ensemble[1][5] and two years later performed in the Salzburg Festival premiere of Thomas Bernhard's Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige, under the direction of Claus Peymann.[11]

The German magazine Theater heute solidified Ganz's reputation as a stage actor by pronouncing him Schauspieler des Jahres (Actor of the Year) in 1973.[6] One of Ganz's most physically demanding stage portrayals was the title character in Peter Stein’s 2000 production of Goethe's Faust (Parts I and II); he suffered injuries during rehearsals which delayed him starting in the role.[13] He also served as a speaker in classical music works, including a 1993 recording of Luigi Nono's Il canto sospeso with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.[14][15]

Film career

In 1960 Ganz landed his first film role, in Der Herr mit der schwarzen Melone (The Man in the Black Derby).[1] Despite the support of lead actor Gustav Knuth, Ganz's cinematic debut was not particularly successful and it was only many years later that his career in film got off the ground. Ganz made his film breakthrough in a major part in the 1976 film Sommergäste,[4] launching a widely recognized film career in Europe and the United States. He worked with several directors of the New German Cinema like Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, and also with international directors like Éric Rohmer and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. In 1977, he co-starred with Dennis Hopper in Wenders' American Friend, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game,[1] playing a terminally ill father who gets hired as a professional killer. In 1979, he starred opposite Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night). Ganz played a professor opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in the thriller The Boys from Brazil (1978), about Nazi fugitives.[1]

In 1987 Ganz first played the role of the angel Damiel in Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire. He reprised the role in Faraway, So Close! in 1993. Ganz appeared in The Reader as a Holocaust survivor and as police officer Horst Herold in The Baader Meinhof Complex, which were both nominated for the 81st Academy Awards (Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film respectively). In 2011, he appeared as a former Stasi operator opposite Liam Neeson in Unknown. Among Ganz's later roles were the Grandfather in the literary adaptation Heidi (2015), a pseudo-scientific healer in Sally Potter's The Party (2017) and a Vergil-like figure in Lars von Trier's The House that Jack Built (2018).[16][17]

Ganz portrayed Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang (Downfall) (2004).[4] after four months of researching the role.[18] His performance was widely acclaimed by critics; The Guardian critic Rob Mackie described Ganz as “the most convincing screen Hitler yet: an old, bent, sick dictator with the shaking hands of someone with Parkinson's, alternating between rage and despair in his last days in the bunker”.[19] His performance inspired many parodies on YouTube, using video and audio from the film with humorous subtitles.[20] In 2014, popular culture website named his performance as the best portrayal of a real-life "bad guy" of all time, beating competition from Oscar-winning portrayals of Idi Amin by Forest Whitaker, and serial murderer Aileen Wuornos by Charlize Theron.[21][22]

Personal life and death

Ganz was married to Sabine from 1965 until his death, although they were separated for a long time; their son, Daniel, was born in 1972.[1][23]

In February 2018, doctors in Salzburg found that Ganz was suffering from intestinal cancer, and he immediately began chemotherapy.[24]

Ganz died on 16 February 2019 at his home in the village of Au, in Wädenswil, Switzerland, at the age of 77, over a month shy of his 78th birthday.[25][26] Ganz was survived by his partner, the theatrical photographer Ruth Walz, and his son Daniel.[1]

Awards and honors


Ganz appeared in the following films:[33]


  1. Some media reports have the wrong date and the wrong place of death. Ganz died on 16 February 2019 (Swiss time) at his home in Au. Au is a village and a quarter of the (municipality) of Wädenswil, which is near Zürich.


  1. Anita Gates. "Bruno Ganz, Who Played an Angel and Hitler, Is Dead at 77". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  2. "Downfall star Bruno Ganz dies following battle with colon cancer". Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  3. Midgette, Anne (6 August 2000). "Germany's Classic of Classics, All 21 Hours". New York Times.
  4. Rob Mackie (16 September 2005). "Downfall". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  5. Simon Strauss (16 February 2019). "Schauspieler Bruno Ganz ist tot". FAZ (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  6., www 20minuten ch, 20 Minuten, 20 Min. "Schauspieler Bruno Ganz ist tot". 20 Minuten (in German).
  7. "Born: 22 March 1941 in Zurich, Switzerland". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  8. "Born 1941 to a Swiss worker and his Northern Italian wife". Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  9. "Swiss-born actor Bruno Ganz established himself in Germany, first as co-founder of the Schaubuhne Theatre company, then as a romantic lead in films". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  10. "he got his first film role with 19... ...but his absolute break through he has with in a play by Peter Zadek in Bremen". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  11. Bernhard Doppler (14 August 2016). "Thomas Bernhards „Ignorant" bei den Salzburger Festspielen / Große Schauspielkunst im ehemaligen Skandalstück". Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  12. "German Films: News Releases". Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  13. John Rockwell (4 January 2001). "With Pivotal Actor Back, Marathon Faust Gets Another Look". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  14. John Rockwell (24 October 1993). "After Karajan In Berlin, No Deluge Yet". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  15. "Luigi Nono: Il canto sospeso; Gustav Mahler: Kindertotenlieder - Claudio Abbado - Release Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  16. Quinn, Ruth; Thorpe, Vanessa. "Bruno Ganz, actor who played Hitler in Downfall, dies aged 77". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  17. Bradshaw, Peter. "Bruno Ganz: always poetic and inspired, from Hitler's bunker rant to a Berlin angel". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  18. Krysia Diver and Stephen Moss (25 March 2005). "Desperately seeking Adolf". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  19. Ruth Quinn and Vanessa Thorpe (16 February 2019). "Bruno Ganz, actor who played Hitler in Downfall, dies aged 77". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  20. "Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in Downfall, dies aged 77". BBC News. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  21. "Top 10 Movie Portrayals of Real Life Bad Guys". WatchMojo.
  22., www 20minuten ch, 20 Minuten, 20 Min. "Die Welt verneigt sich vor Bruno Ganz". 20 Minuten.
  23. "Spouse: Sabine Ganz (1965 – present) (separated) 1 child". Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  24. "Bruno Ganz leidet an Krebs (German)". Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  25. Urs Bühler: Ob Engel oder Diktator: Bruno Ganz legte den allzu menschlichen Kern seiner Figuren frei. Nachruf in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung vom 16. Februar 2019, abgerufen am 10. März 2019.
  26. Michel Imhof: Daniel Rohr erlebte die letzten Minuten der Schauspiellegende: «Bruno Ganz starb im Beisein seiner Partnerin und seines Sohnes» In: Blick, 16 February 2019.
  27. "L'acteur Bruno Ganz est décédé à l'âge de 77 ans". (in French). 16 February 2019. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  28. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1713. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  29. SK (16 February 2019). "Zürich: Bruno Ganz im Alter von 77 Jahren gestorben – Schauspieler erlag einem Krebsleiden". SÜDKURIER Online (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  30. "Stars | Boulevard der Stars". (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  31. "Prize Winner Bruno Ganz – Category "National Lifetime Achievement Award"". HÖRZU. Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  32. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. "Bruno Ganz". Film Portal. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  35. Un Juif pour l'exemple on IMDb
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