Swiss film legend Bruno Ganz dies

Swiss actor Bruno Ganz attends a screening of the film 'The Party' during the 61st BFI London Film Festival, in London, Britain, in October 2017 Keystone/ Epa/Neil Hall

Bruno Ganz, Switzerland’s best-known actor, has died in Zurich, his management has announced. He was 77.

This content was published on February 16, 2019 - 11:20

"It is with a heavy heart that we confirm our client Bruno Ganz passed away on February 16 at his home in Zurich after his battle with colon cancer," his agent Patricia Baumbauer, told in a written statement.

"He was in the loving company of his family at the time. We will forever cherish the memories and celebrate his remarkable contribution to the world of cinema and theatre."

Ganz has played an angel (Wings of Desire), Hitler (Downfall), a grandfather more than once (in Swiss films Heidi and Vitus), a vampire (Nosferatu the Vampyre), a waiter (Bread and Tulips) and many, many other characters. His roles gained him an international reputation.

He was born in Zurich on March 22, 1941. His Swiss father was a mechanic and his mother came from northern Italy. He discovered acting while at school and started his career on stage.

In film, he worked with directors such as Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Francis Ford Coppola.

Hitler, his famous role

One of his most famous cinema roles was as Adolf Hitler, portraying the Nazi dictator's last days in Downfall (Der Untergang), for which he received much critical acclaim. His ravings as the character became the subject of memes on the internet.

Another well-known role was playing Heidi's grandfather in the 2015 Swiss film of the classic novel. Here he is talking to Swiss television while on set.

He continued to work on stage and screen, but narrowly missed out on some plum roles such as the main character opposite Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, which went to Richard Gere. 

He was also rejected by Steven Spielberg for the main role in Oscar-winning Schindler's List.


Swiss interior minister Alain Berset, who holds the culture portfolio, tweetedExternal link (in German) that Ganz did not act his roles, he lived them. “We have lost one of the greatest Swiss actors. Whenever I met him, I found him to be a great person, who lived life to the full and was concerned with social cohesion.”

There were also tweets from German Foreign Minister Heiko MaasExternal link who said: “One of the most important actors of our times goes, his brilliant work remains”.

Swiss Films, the promotion agency for Swiss filmmaking, had this to say:

External Content

Several theatres also added their words of condolence, including the Schauspielhaus Zürich.External link

There was resonance further afield as well. In its obituaryExternal link, the New York Times called Ganz "the melancholy Swiss film actor who played an angel longing for the visceral joys of mortality in “Wings of Desire” and a defeated Hitler with trembling hands facing his own mortality in “Downfall”..."

Private man

The actor received many prizes, among them the most prestigious award for German-speaking actors, the Iffland-Ring, which is held until death.

He was a private man, who mostly shunned Hollywood and was separated from his wife, with whom he had a son, who is blind. Ganz lived in Zurich, Berlin and Venice. He also had a long-term battle with alcoholism.

Looking back at his long career in an interviewExternal link with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 2017, Ganz said that it was a gift to have found a career like acting. "I used the time well," he said. 

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