Christopher Plummer was a Canadian actor in film, theater and television, who was most famous for his 1965 performance as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Over his incredibly active career, he won an Academy Award, two prime-time Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a British Academy Film Award, and was nominated for many other honors. He never slowed down in his more than 70 years on the stage. At age 82, he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Beginners, and at age 88 he was nominated for his role in All the Money in the World, making him both the oldest actor ever to be nominated for an Oscar and the oldest ever to win one. On February 5, 2021, he died at age 91 of a brain hemorrhage after falling and hitting his head.
Acting for Life
Plummer was born in Toronto as the only child of a stockbroker father and a mother who was a secretary at McGill University and the daughter of Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott. Plummer’s parents divorced soon after he was born, and he was raised by his mother in Montreal where he learned to speak both French and English fluently. He was an accomplished pianist, but decided while he was still in high school that his main interest was in the theater. After high school he was featured in several stage and television productions. He made his Broadway debut in 1953 at age 24, and in 1955 he starred in the The Lark opposite Julie Harris, which established his reputation. In 1965 at age 36, he played Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, which was such a success that it surpassed Gone with the Wind and became the highest-grossing film ever. It made him so famous that he never again had to search for roles; he stayed busy performing in the theater, television and movies right up until the time of his death at age 91.
His filmography lists 121 movies, 18 theatrical productions and 72 television shows from 1953 to 2020. The variety of roles he played on stage and in film shows the range and depth of his acting skills: King Lear, Macbeth, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Tolstoy, Sherlock Holmes, Cyrano de Bergerac, Ebenezer Scrooge, Julius Caesar, Rudyard Kipling, Aristotle, King Herod, J. Paul Getty, Don Juan, Mike Wallace, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hamlet, and dozens more. He is one of just 24 actors or actresses who have attained the “Triple Crown of Acting” of winning Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards, the highest achievements in American film, TV and theater.
The Sound of Music
Although The Sound of Music was the film that made Plummer famous, he didn’t like the script because he felt that Georg von Trapp’s character was “hopelessly one-dimensional.” He called it “the sound of mucus” and insisted that the scriptwriter, Ernest Lehman, should rewrite it. During the filming, Plummer drank to excess, became argumentative and made a lot of enemies on the set. One morning after recovering from a night of drinking, he found that he was left off the instruction sheet for the day’s filming schedule. When he found the set where they were filming, he started to scream at the director, actors and cameramen. An assistant director tried to calm him down by explaining to him that he just was not scheduled to be filmed that day. He continued to drink heavily throughout the entire filming. Plummer claimed that he hated the film so much that it caused him to overeat, he gained so much weight that his costumes had to be made wider, and the film’s director, Robert Wise, told him, “My God, you look like Orson Welles.”
Overcoming a Drinking Problem
As a child, Plummer was encouraged to drink wine with his meals, and he drank heavily into his thirties. He married his first wife, actress Tammy Grimes, in 1956 at age 27 and they divorced in 1960. He then started to date a journalist, Patricia Lewis. One rainy night, they left a restaurant drunk, and she crashed her convertible into a lamp post in front of Buckingham Palace. She had multiple bone fractures and a massive blood clot in her brain that kept her in a coma for weeks. Plummer was not seriously injured but was so shaken up by the accident that he drank himself to sleep for many weeks after that. Plummer and Lewis married in 1962, but he was away filming so often that the newspapers started to report that he was being seen out with various actresses. They divorced in 1967, and Lewis’s former journalism colleagues wrote about his extensive drinking.
In 1970, at age 41, Plummer married actress Elaine Taylor and she helped him give up hard liquor and to start a healthful program of diet and exercise. He learned to play tennis and she made all his meals at home. Plummer and his wife maintained their healthful lifestyle for 50 years, and he continued to be extremely active in movies, theater and TV. At age 89 he played the lead role in Departure, a British TV series about the disappearance of a trans-Atlantic flight, and was featured in the hit movie, Knives Out, that was called “one of the wittiest and most entertaining films of the year.” On February 5, 2021, with his wife at his side, he died of a brain hemorrhage after falling and hitting his head.
An Important Lesson from Christopher Plummer’s Productive Life
You should always believe that it is never too late to adopt healthful lifestyle habits. Plummer drank regularly from a very young age and was often drunk, ate a typical lousy Western diet, never exercised, and gained excess weight for his first four decades of his life. At age 41 he married a woman who taught him how to live a healthful lifestyle that he followed for the rest of his life. He went on to live to the ripe old age of 91 and might have had many more years but for his fatal accident.
Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer
December 13, 1929 – February 5, 2021