Remembering Christopher Plummer's Incredible Career in Photos
The 91-year-old dominated on stage and on the small and silver screens, finding fame all around the globe
Born on Dec. 13, 1929, to a prominent family in Toronto, Christopher Plummer gave up a career as a concert pianist to join the theater, telling PEOPLE in a 1982 interview that while he loved music, his "attraction to words was greater." The great-grandson of Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott, Plummer was raised outside of Montreal by his mom after his parents split when he was just 1. As a teen, "I got involved with the local baddies," he told PEOPLE. "I … learned how to drink at an early age."
Plummer came to New York City at 1949 at the age of 19, and made his Broadway debut five years later in The Starcross Story.
In 1955, while starring in The Dark Is Light Enough, he met actress Tammy Grimes when she came backstage to congratulate him on his performance. "He was so magnetic onstage," she recalled to PEOPLE. "He was like a knife blade catching the sun." They married the following year, and in 1957, welcomed daughter Amanda, now an actress. In 1960, however, they split. "We were both too young and interested in our separate careers," he told PEOPLE.
Moving to England, Plummer was interviewed by British journalist Patricia Lewis (pictured) while working at Stratford-upon-Avon. They married in 1962 and divorced five years later.
After theater, TV was where Plummer gained fame, earning one-off rolls before picking up lead parts in miniseries like The Moneychangers and Jesus of Nazareth (pictured). He'd later go on to Counterstrike, Madeline and, more recently, Departure. He earned seven Emmy nominations between 1959 and 2011, winning in 1977 for Moneychangers and 1994 for The New Adventures of Madeline.
Plummer's 1958 film debut came in the Sidney Lumet piece Stage Struck alongside Susan Strasberg. It opened the doors to countless other films, like The Man Who Would Be King, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Malcolm X and even the animated classic An American Tail.
In the late 1960s, Plummer began work on Lock Up Your Daughters. In the cast was Elaine Taylor, a 25-year-old actress who caught his eye. Recalled Elaine of their early courtship: "I thought he was extremely selfish and conceited, but he made me laugh. And he did get the best tables at restaurants." They wed in 1970.
Of all his movie roles, none brought him more fame than that of Baron von Trapp in 1965's The Sound of Music, alongside Julie Andrews. In his 1982 interview with PEOPLE, he called the movie "The Sound of Mucus" and said his role was "lousy," though added he was grateful for the recognition it gave him. He walked back his words in his 2008 memoir, In Spite of Myself, saying he enjoyed the movie when watching it at a children's party.
"The more I watched, the more I realized what a terrific movie it is," he wrote. "The very best of its genre — warm, touching, joyous and absolutely timeless. Here was I, cynical old sod that I am, being totally seduced by the damn thing — and what's more, I felt a sudden surge of pride that I'd been part of it."
Reflecting on the film's 50th anniversary in a 2015 chat with PEOPLE, Plummer joked that his favorite parts of filming were "getting to know Austria and getting to know some Austrian girls — they're very beautiful!"
Despite his success on TV and in movies, Plummer's true love really was the theater. "I couldn't live without it," he told PEOPLE in 1982. His Othello costar James Earl Jones confirmed Plummer's passion. "Christopher is the first actor I've ever met who leaves the theater after I do," said Jones. "He doesn't want to break that fragile thread from which we actors swing."
Of his daughter, Plummer told PEOPLE in 1982, "Mandy is a much more emotional actor than me or Tammy. She is her own master. My feelings toward her are those of great pride."
Yet Plummer lived abroad much of the time Amanda was growing up in Manhattan. "I was a distant, very bad father," he reflected. "[Ex Tammy Grimes] would call and remind me about bills I had to pay and inform me where Mandy was in school."
"Christopher wasn't a conventional father," Grimes told PEOPLE. "But Amanda has got it figured out now."
Between 1959 and 2007, Plummer received seven Tony Award nominations, winning for 1974's J.B. and 1997's Barrymore. Though not an EGOT, he is one of few actors to have attained the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Academy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award.
In 2009, Plummer finally received an Oscar nomination for The Last Station, and he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for his role in Beginners, in which he played an ailing elderly man who reveals that he’s gay to his son. “You’re only two years older than me darling,” he jokingly said to his statuette upon accepting the Academy Award at the time. “Where have you been all my life?”
He was later nominated again for Best Supporting Actor at the 2018 Oscars for his performance in Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World.
One of the actor's final roles was in the acclaimed ensemble piece Knives Out in 2019. Two years later, on Feb. 5, 2021, he died at the age of 91. "Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self deprecating humor and the music of words," Lou Pitt, his longtime friend and manager of 46 years said in a statement to Variety. "He was a National Treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots. Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come. He will forever be with us."