Christopher Plummer was a true God in cinema. With a career that spanned seven decades, 119 films, 71 television series and so much more, summarizing the career of this Oscar and Golden Globe winning thespian is no easy feat. Plummer passed away on Feb. 5, 2021 at the age of 91 after suffering a fall in his home in Connecticut and has left behind a legacy that is a shining example of consistency and longevity in the art of not just cinema, but acting in general. His career is one people should write books about (and not just his own memoir) that every actor should look to as the epitome of success. Today I’m taking on the daunting task of exploring some of the many highlights and films of this celebrated performer’s career trajectory and legacy, paying homage to an actor I personally have long considered one of my favorites in the entire industry. Due to Plummer’s lengthy resume I’m going to mostly focus on his legacy in film, but his achievements in television and on the stage should not be ignored and will be touched upon in this tribute to one of the greatest actors of his time.
Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, who eventually went by the stage name Christopher Plummer, was born in Ontario, Canada in 1929 with a storied family tree including relations to Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott and actor Nigel Bruce, famous for his portrayal of Watson in adaptations of “Sherlock Holmes”. It was Plummer’s mother Isabella Mary, who worked for McGill University, who essentially raised him after his parents divorced. In his youth he spoke both English and French and studied concert piano and theatre eventually attending the High School of Montreal where he began learning the basics of acting after being inspired by the 1944 adaptation of “Henry V”. He eventually began to perfect his craft at the Montréal Repertory Theatre and in 1946 he caught the attention of Montreal Gazette theatre critic Herbert Whittaker who cast Plummer in one of his own productions at the age of 18. It would be just the start of Plummer’s promising career as a professional performer.
Plummer made his television debut in Canada in 1953 in a production of “Othello” for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. That same year he debuted on American television in an episode of “Studio One” and proceeded to appear in several episodic series for much of the decade. He also made his Broadway debut in 1953 in “The Starcross Story” and continued to appear on stage throughout the 50s. It wasn’t until 1958 that Plummer would begin appearing in films. His debut came in “Stage Struck” and “Wind Across the Everglades”, both released that year. He continued to act in plays and television programs into the 60s and throughout his career including numerous Shakespearean productions. Plummer would play Commodus in “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in 1964, arguably the actor’s first big mainstream role. However probably his most famous role would come a year later.
In 1965 Christopher Plummer appeared as Captain Georg von Trapp in the Oscar-winning adaptation of “The Sound of Music”, a movie that became the highest grossing film ever when not adjusting for inflation at that time. Even when taking inflation into account the film remains in the top six in the 2020s. To this day Georg von Trapp remains one of, if not THE most iconic role of Plummer’s career. However, Plummer was on record considering the film a bore and “awful” although in his later years he warmed up to the movie and found pride in being a part of it, but never truly accepted it as the unquestionable masterpiece many believe it to be in the history of cinema. That same year he appeared in “Inside Daisy Clover” and continued to appear in at least one movie every year for the second half of the 60s including “Triple Cross”, “Oedipus the King”, “Battle of Britain”, “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” and “Lock Up Your Daughters!” just to name a few. As his film commitments increased, his Broadway showings became less and less especially after his move from New York to London.
Plummer started off the 70s in the film “Waterloo” but wouldn’t appear in another movie until 1973 likely due to his commitment to the National Theatre for the 1971 and 1972 season when he appeared in several play productions. From there he had at least one film appearance every year of the decade including his first Canadian film “The Pyx”, “The Man Who Would Be King”, “The Return of the Pink Panther”, “Aces High” and “The Silent Partner” which earned him his first notable major industry award nomination in cinema for a Canadian Film Award. The decade also saw Plummer earn his first Tony Award win in 1974 for Best Actor in a musical for his contributions to “Cyrano”. He also portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 1979’s “Murder by Decree” which in 1980 earned him a Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, his first major industry award win in film. He only had a few television appearances through that decade capping off the ten-year span with 1977’s “Jesus of Nazareth”. That same year Plummer earned his first Primetime Emmy Award win for his performance in “Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers”.
The 1980s were one of Plummer’s slowest decade on the stage with only two notable stage appearances in “Othello” and “Macbeth”. His big and small screen contributions however continued to add up. He started the decade with “Somewhere in Texas” in 1980 and proceeded to appear in a total of 20 movies over the decade including his first major animated movie voice roles in 1986’s “An American Tail” and “The Tin Soldier”. Ironically the decade also saw him lend his voice to a “making of” documentary of “Gone with the Wind”, the movie “The Sound of Music” dethroned as the highest grossing film of all time. The decade would bring him one major award nomination for a Genie Award for his performance in 1982’s “The Amateur”. His television credits included the animated TV show “Madeline” where Plummer became a mainstay and earned a Primetime Emmy for his voiceover work in 1994. Plummer remained active in the 90s adding several notable films and franchises to his filmography. Among the 22 films he appeared in during the decade were “Malcolm X”, “Star Trek VI”, “12 Monkeys”, Babes in Toyland”, “Dolores Claiborne”, “Impolite” and “The Insider”. “Impolite” earned Plummer another Genie Award nomination in 1993 while “Babes in Toyland” earned him an Annie Award nomination and 1999’s “The Insider” earned Plummer the National Society of Film Critics, Boston Society of Film Critics and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Supporting Actor in addition to a slew of other Critics organization nominations. Also, during the decade Plummer earned his second Tony Award for his performance in 1997’s “Barrymore”.
Plummer appeared in at least one movie every year throughout the 2000s except for 2008 starting with “Dracula 2000” where he played Abraham Van Helsing. Among his other film appearances through the decade were “A Beautiful Mind”, “Syriana”, “Alexander”, “The New World”, “Inside Man”, and a brief appearance in Disney’s “National Treasure”. His appearance in 1992’s “Nicholas Nickelby” would earn him and the ensemble cast recognition from the National Board of Review while several other major award nominations would come Plummer’s way over the decade for his individual contributions to film. However, it wasn’t until late in the 2000s and early 2010s that Plummer found himself reaching a new high point in his career. In 2009 Plummer appeared in six movies, a career high, including the Pixar film “Up” and an adaptation of “Julius Caesar”. The year 2009 also saw Plummer perform in “The Last Station” which earned him his first nomination for a Golden Globe in film and and his first Academy Award nomination, both of which he lost. But it wouldn’t be long before Plummer earned the honor which had eluded his long-lasting and exceptional career.
Plummer started his final full decade with a supporting role in “Beginners” which would go on to be a heavy award season favorite. Plummer racked up numerous nominations for his performance winning Critics association awards and industry honors, including his one and only Golden Globe victory, but the one that had eluded him the most throughout his career finally came to him, an Academy Award. Plummer successfully earned the statuette for Best Supporting Actor at the 2012 ceremony making him the oldest actor to win an Oscar at the age of 82, a record that remains today, resulting in Plummer joker “Where have you been all my life?” when he received his trophy. As usual, Plummer stayed busy for the rest of the decade continuing his work on stage and the small screen and adding 21 more movies in total to his filmography. Among them were a screen adaptation of “Barrymore”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, the 2019 modern mystery comedy “Knives Out” and the 2017 film “All the Money in the World” where he famously replaced Kevin Spacey in post-production due to sexual abuse allegations against Spacey, which also happened to result in Plummer’s third and final Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nods. Plummer’s final on-screen role came in 2019’s “The Last Full Measure” however the late actor will have one final voice role appearance in 2021’s “Heroes of the Golden Masks”.
In addition to winning several Tony and Primetime Emmy honors and an Oscar, Plummer received numerous other recognitions as well. In 1968 Plummer was invested as Companion of the Order of Canada, one of the highest honors for a Canadian civilian at the time, and over the years received four more medals from his country of birth for his contributions to the arts. In 2019 Plummer received the Canadian Screen Award for Lifetime Achievement. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s Plummer earned a grand total of five different lifetime and career achievement honors from film organizations and festivals. In his personal life Plummer was married three times, including to actress Tammy Grimes with whom he had a daughter, actress Amanda Plummer. Sadly, the breakup led Grimes to prevent contact between Plummer and his daughter who eventually formed a bond in her adult years. He went on to marry journalist Patricia Lewis in 1962 and divorced in 1967 then married actress Elaine Taylor in 1970 who he lived with in Weston, Connecticut until his death.
There are a lot of other accomplishments from Plummer’s career that I didn’t have the space to cover in this post, but suffice it to say Christopher Plummer was a truly accomplished and celebrated actor who never slowed down nor really suffered a career downfall making him one of the most consistent men to ever work in the business. He still remains the oldest man to ever win an Oscar and his numerous roles in iconic films of today and yesterday as well as his unmistakable vocal talents have cemented him as one of the most memorable performers of his time. To list my favorite roles from his decades of work would be impossible, which is why you shouldn’t expect a top ten or twenty list from me any time soon, but from “The Sound of Music” to “Knives Out” and everything in between I doubt there’s a serious fan of film who doesn’t have a favorite Christopher Plummer movie in mind. I am not understating it when I say the world of cinema has lost a truly great thespian who left a lasting legacy on the stage and the big and small screens like few could ever hope to accomplish.