Christopher Plummer: Shakespearean actor who disliked his best known role

Alex Green, PA
·3-min read

Christopher Plummer was one of the most distinguished post-war Shakespearean actors, but was best known for his portrayal of Captain von Trapp in The Sound Of Music.

His career spanned more than seven decades during which he played many substantial roles in film, television and theatre, including most of the major Shakespearean parts, picking up many awards along the way.

Despite his huge success in The Sound Of Music it was a musical he did not like.

He had been known to describe it as The Sound Of Mucus.

Richard Rodgers Centennial Benefit
Christopher Plummer with Julie Andrews (Rich Lee/PA)

More recently he was nominated for an Oscar for his turn in Sir Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World, in which he replaced the disgraced Kevin Spacey in the role of J Paul Getty.

Amongst the most decorated in his field, Plummer won an Oscar, two Primetime Emmys, two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Bafta.

Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer was born in Toronto on December 13 1929.

He studied to become a concert pianist but soon developed a love for the theatre.

It was in Montreal that he began his professional career on stage and on the radio, both in French and English.

He then went on to star in many prize-winning productions on Broadway and in London’s West End, including the title role in the musical Cyrano for which he was awarded his first Tony.

Plummer was also a leading member of Britain’s National Theatre under Sir Laurence Olivier, and the Royal Shakespearean Company under Sir Peter Hall, where he won the London Evening Standard Best Actor award.

The 84th Academy Awards – Arrivals – Los Angeles
Christopher Plummer and wife Elaine Taylor (Ian West/PA)

In its formative years, he played at the Stratford Festival of Canada.

His performance as King Lear garnered him his sixth Tony award.

His screen career began in 1958, and his film credits included The Man Who Would Be King, Battle of Britain, Waterloo, Malcolm X, Star Trek VI and Murder By Decree.

Plummer made more than 100 television appearances, including the Emmy-winning BBC production Hamlet at Elsinore, and a host of other award-winning productions.

His versatility knew no bounds, having also written for the stage, screen and concert hall.

He was the co-arranger of Shakespeare’s Henry V as a concert piece.

He performed it and other works with the New York Philharmonic and Symphony orchestras at venues throughout Britain, the United States and Canada.

Plummer was inducted into the American Theatre’s Hall of Fame in 1986 and into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1997.

He won the Oscar for best supporting actor at the age of 82 for Beginners in 2010, becoming the oldest person to win an acting award.

However, it was his performance as frugal billionaire J Paul Getty in Sir Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World that earned him the greatest plaudits in his final years.

Plummer was signed up to replace Spacey, who had become embroiled in Hollywood’s sexual harassment and abuse scandal, in hastily organised re-shoots costing millions less than two months before the film’s world premiere.

He received an Oscar nod at the age of 88, making him the oldest person to be nominated in an acting category.

At the age of 89, he appeared in a leading role in Departure, a 2019 Canadian-British TV series about the disappearance of a trans-Atlantic flight.

Among his final big screen roles was murder mystery Knives Out in which he played Harlan Thrombey, the patriarch of a wealthy, dysfunctional family, opposite Daniel Craig’s private detective.

He is survived by his third wife, Elaine Taylor, whom he married in 1970, and his actress daughter Amanda Plummer, from his first marriage to actress Tammy Grimes.