Swiss actor who played Hitler in Downfall, dies
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Swiss actor who played Hitler in Downfall, dies

Nuanced portrayal that veered between explosive and sombre was unparallelled

Bruno Ganz was 77.

Bruno Ganz was 77.

Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who  gave a masterful performance as Adolf Hitler in "Downfall", has died aged 77, his agent said Saturday.

Ganz, who died at his home in Zurich, had a distinguished career on screen and stage before his 2004 appearance in "Downfall", which unfolds over the final, suffocating days inside Hitler's bunker. 

For many critics his nuanced portrayal of the fascist tyrant that veers between explosive and sombre was unparallelled. 

Hitler is a figure that German-speaking actors had historically been reluctant to take on and the Zurich-born Ganz conceded that being Swiss provided a necessary buffer.     

"It helped me also that I am not German, because I could put my passport between Hitler and me," Ganz told The Arts Desk website in 2005.

Ganz, who once said the key to playing Hitler was accepting he remained a human being despite his monstrous crimes, won acclaim, but also criticism from some who chastised him for "humanising" the Nazi leader instead of portraying a caricature of evil. 

Before appearing in the Oscar-nominated "Downfall", which vaulted Ganz into new levels of global fame -- though he admitted the role haunted him for years-- he had already been acknowledged as one of the most important actors in the German-speaking world.  

In 1996 he was given the Iffland-Ring, a jewel officially owned by the Austrian state but held by the most important germanophone performer of each era. 

His notoriety was also driven by theatrical performances such as a landmark starring role in Goethe's "Faust".  

He played the part in a 21-hour production mounted by director Peter Stein that ran at the beginning of the century. 

On screen, his most prominent role before "Downfall" was in "Wings of Desire"(1987), in which he starred as the angel Damiel who eavesdrops on ordinary, melancholy moments around pre-unification Berlin. 

Ganz's family, mostly made up of blue collar workers in Zurich, though his mother was Italian, were baffled by his decision to quit school and pursue acting, the German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on the actor's 75th birthday. 

He got by as a bookseller and a paramedic before moving to Germany in the early 1960s hoping to make it as a performer, according to DW.

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