Max von Sydow finally loses chess game with death

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Many people had tried to kill Max von Sydow, by means variously including crashing a spaceship into him, using the Dark Side of the Force, and doing battle with the devil himself – so making it to 90 was a remarkable achievement for a truly wonderful actor.

Sydow, who combined a voice made of granite with a warm understanding of the absurdity of the roles he often played, leaves behind a body of work which encompassed flawed heroes,  thoughtful characterisations of tormented people exploring the nature of what it is to be human and, frankly, hands down one of the best screen villains ever committed to film.

His screen presence was remarkable – capable of projecting anything from gravitas or despair to capricious malice without a word – and when he spoke his doom-laden vowels carried worlds before them.

Starting his career in his native Sweden and making his name as Ingmar Bergman’s go-to leading man, Sydow’s first American role was as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told and to move from that to later appear as both Blofeld and Ming the Merciless showed an artful range which few could have matched.

The close of his career was most notable for an odd reflection of how it began – that of a mystical saviour in Game of Thrones.

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On a cold cliff standing over a cold sea, there is a chessboard with only one player who sits and waits for us all. Sydow played his game long and well, but it is a game everyone must lose in the end.