Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who gave masterful performances as Adolf Hitler in Downfall and an angel seeking mortality in divided Berlin, died Saturday aged 77, his agent said. Ganz, who was suffering from cancer, died “in the early hours of the morning” at his home in Zurich, the agent said. Considered one of the greatest German-speaking actors in the post-World War II era, Ganz had a distinguished career on screen and stage before his 2004 appearance in Downfall, which unfolds over the final, suffocating days inside Hitler’s underground bunker.
For many critics, his nuanced portrayal of the fascist tyrant that veers between explosive and sombre was unparalleled. Hitler is a figure that German-speaking actors have historically been reluctant to take on and the Zurich-born Ganz conceded that being Swiss provided a necessary buffer.
In addition to delivering one of the definitive cinematic portrayals of Hitler, Ganz played an angel who gives up immortality to experience earthly pleasures in Wim Wenders’ classic film Wings of Desire (1987). He reprised that role in Wenders’ 1993 follow-up, “Faraway, So Close!”
Other notable roles included turns in Stephen Daldry’s Oscar-nominated The Reader (2008), Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979), Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004), and Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil (1978), in which he played a professor who discovers a plan by the Nazis to create clones.
An active member of the German film community, Ganz served as president of the German Film Academy alongside actress Iris Berben from 2010 to 2013. In 2010, he received a European Film Award for lifetime achievement.