The Untold Truth Of Christopher Plummer

The Washington Post called him a "dashing grandee of stage and film," and that's pretty accurate. Christopher Plummer's death in 2021 — at the impressive age of 91 — brought an end to a career that spanned decades, continents, and genres from Shakespeare and musicals to science fiction. Plummer's death was reported as happening on February 5, 2021. The cause — as shared by his wife, Elaine Plummer — was complications that came after a fall.

Best known as Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music, it's easy to overlook his other groundbreaking roles and performances in favor of that one iconic film. But film history will remember roles like his Iago, played opposite James Earl Jones in Othello. The 1982 performance was hailed by critics as "quite possibly the best single Shakespearean performance to have originated on this continent in our time." He won Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, and in 2012, his Academy Award (for Beginners) made him the oldest winner in the category.

As far as he was concerned, his career never ended: he wrote that there were always things to do, things to learn, and "above all ... there is no such thing as perfection — ... only infinity."

Christopher Plummer came from an impressive family

Christopher Plummer's grand stage presence might give the impression that he was from the sort of family that got dressed up for dinner and had entire rooms of their home dedicated to entertaining, and he absolutely was: The Washington Post says that the family was established by John Abbott, a lawyer and Canadian prime minister who was given a knighthood in 1892. Plummer was born just a few decades later on December 13, 1929, and he's been frank about the advantages he had in youth.

He credits the evenings that the family spent reading aloud to each other for his love of the theatre, but something else came along with that: he'd later write in his memoir, In Spite of Myself, that he "harbored the old-fashioned stage actor's snobbism toward moviemaking," for a long time. 

Plummer's upbringing was the sort that made him consider a career as a classical pianist first, and he told Vanity Fair that he thought of acting in much the same way: "You make your own symphony out of words." (He's pictured as Hamlet, in a performance at the actual Elsinore Castle.)

His young life wasn't all fun and games

The New York Times says Christopher Plummer described his family as belonging to the "fading social aristocracy," but it wasn't all playing tennis and learning the piano (although that was part of it, too). He also said that his well-to-do home life "made me want to be bad and rough and find the secrets rather than the gates," and it wasn't as picture-perfect as it might seem at a glance.

Plummer's parents split not long after he was born, and his father had nothing to do with him until he was a teenager. And that's nothing at all — they didn't even meet until Plummer was 17, and his father went to a play that he was in. He'd later recall that they would meet a few more times, but as far as any kind of relationship, that was non-existent.

He also remembered that while his teachers called him gifted and at home he was definitely spoiled, there was a bit of rebelliousness that went along with that. He wrote in his memoir: "How often as a mere teenager, tanked to the gills on cheap rye whiskey and Molson chasers, did I stagger home in the blinding cold." It wasn't just a phase, either, and he would later go on to have problems with alcohol abuse and addiction.

Christopher Plummer absolutely hated filming The Sound of Music

To say that Christopher Plummer hated The Sound of Music is putting it very, very lightly. According to The New York Times, he wasn't even fond of referring to the film by the proper name, and instead called it either The Sound of Mucus or — awesomely — S&M. The Irish Times quoted him explaining his distaste: "Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey. You had to work terribly hard to try and infuse some miniscule bit of humor into it."

How did he cope with it? Plummer told Vanity Fair that he was only on set for a surprising 11 days, but filled all of his down time drinking and eating all the pastries he could find. He recalled, "I got so fat. ... When I got to shooting, [director] Robert Wise (left) said, 'My God, you look like Orson Welles.' We had to re-do the costume." He didn't just drink during his down time, either — he's admitted that during the famous music festival scene he was completely hammered. 

HIs dislike for the movie stayed with him for a long time, and he told Collider that it irked him to no end when someone wanted to talk to him only about The Sound of Music: "I don't understand it and you want to say, 'Excuse me, haven't you seen other films as well?'"

But he was super good friends with Julie Andrews

For Christopher Plummer, there was one bright spot to filming The Sound of Music. He told Vanity Fair that was Julie Andrews, and at the time he gave that interview, it was 2015, she was 79-years-old, he was 85, and they had been good friends for 50 years. They'd worked together again, too, in a live theater tour, and a television production, and their families were friends, too.

Amid the back-and-forth banter of friends that have known each other for a very long time, indeed, Andrews recalled her favorite moments of the film — and they were moments that they absolutely connected. One was after the capsizing of the boat, and the other was, in her words, "Just before we go into the gazebo and you've said good-bye to the Baroness. You were trying to say that you were glad Maria was back. And like a child, you said that it was all wrong when I went away and it would be all wrong if I went again. It was so endearing."

That's the kind of friendship that makes the world a better place, and Andrews went on to say, "You were the glue that bonded us all together..." Post-interview, everyone headed down for dinner and a few drinks, when it became clear that they were "still a family."

No, that wasn't actually Christopher Plummer singing

In 2018, Christopher Plummer spoke with The Guardian about his new film, and predictably, the conversation turned to The Sound of Music. He said that by that point, he'd found "peace with it," and noted that the only reason he agreed to take the job in the first place was because he'd been working on his singing voice, and wanted the opportunity to sing in a film. It didn't happen, though, not really — because that's not him singing.

When NPR interviewed him in 2012 and asked him if he occasionally broke into song and warbled a few lines of "Edelweiss," he responded with: "Of course not." He went on to explain that the "entrances and exits" from the songs were him, but the majority of it was not. The reason was fairly simple: Julie Andrews was such a phenomenal singer, he said she "was awfully hard to match."

Everyone can agree that there's no shame in that, so they dubbed most of his singing. Most movie fans will have heard Plummer's vocal stand-in, Bill Lee, before, singing in The Jungle Book (as Shere Khan), Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp (among many, many other films).

Christopher Plummer was definitely a ladies' man

When Christopher Plummer spoke to The Daily Mail in 2015, he had this to say about women: "Oh, I adore women! They're not nearly as emotional as men in a funny way. [Men are] silly, romantic creatures whereas women, when they have the responsibility of running things, make marvelous leaders."

They add that Plummer found his marvelous match on the third try, too: at that point, he and his third wife (who survived him after his passing) had been married for 45 years. His first two marriages had lasted just a few years each, but he said that he had no doubts, qualms, or hesitations when it came to the third time. He had met Elaine Taylor (pictured) just three years after The Sound of Music, and he said that at that point, "I realized I mustn't be alone and I needed someone."

That's not to say he was ever precisely alone. In his memoir, he recalled being in Austria (for The Sound of Music) and being bedridden with severe back pain... but making the most of it, with the help of a gorgeous local girl. He's also spoken about getting flirty with the oldest von Trapp girl (Charmain Carr), but was quick to add that it was just a flirtation, nothing more.

The game's afoot!

Here's a super fun bit of trivia, and it involves some on-screen personas and a weird family connection.

Christopher Plummer (left, as Holmes) played Sherlock Holmes twice. In 1977, he starred as the famous fictional detective in The Sunday Drama's Silver Blaze, and in 1979, he donned the famous cap again for a feature film this time. Murder by Decree was an investigation into the killings of Jack the Ripper (and, spoiler alert, the discovery that he was kept safe by powerful friends.) While he's not the most famous Holmes, he is oddly enough related to one of the most famous men to play Holmes' long-time friend, Dr. Watson. 

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Holmes was played repeatedly by Basil Rathbone — it's his depiction that made the hat-wearing, pipe-smoking Holmes the quintessential Holmes for decades. Alongside him as Dr. Watson was Nigel Bruce (right), and Bruce? He was Christopher Plummer's cousin (via SyFy).

Christopher Plummer has been candid about his struggles with drinking

It's one of those stories that's great on the surface, but hints at a much bigger problem. Christopher Plummer told The Daily Mail that it was in the 1950s that he and Jason Robards were drinking in New York City when they got the attention of a cop. Instead of keeping it down, they bought the cop a drink... on the condition that his police horse also joined them. The horse was promptly brought into the bar. (He was harder to get out then he was to get in.)

Plummer said those days were long past him, and he's been candid with his struggles with alcohol. When he met his third wife, Elaine (pictured), he said, "I thought I was devastatingly attractive when I was drunk, but Elaine soon dissuaded me of that notion." He says instead that he was "petulant and angry," and credited her with giving him a reason to stop the heavy stuff. (The night of the horse incident, they were drinking triple tequilas.) When he accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor in 2012, he spoke (via Parade) about how her insistence that he stop drinking saved his life. "I was really going downhill. Thank God for that, as far as I'm concerned." 

Plummer's habits never extended to drugs, though: In 2018 he told The Guardian that he never had anything to do with drugs, and that he'd tried marijuana just once. "[It] put me to sleep. I found it so boring!"

Christopher Plummer had a difficult relationship with his daughter

Christopher Plummer's admiration for his daughter, Amanda, is clear. He described her to The Guardian: "She has that inner madness and fire that she lets fly ... Where she unleashes that power from I don't know, but it's quite natural to her, and rather frightening." That's not to say they always had a close or easy relationship, and oddly enough, he was much the same sort of father he had himself: absent.

Amanda Plummer (pictured) was the product of his first marriage to Tammy Grimes, and she was raised mostly by her mother in the US while her father remained largely in Europe. He's been honest with himself and her, saying (via The Daily Mail): "I was a lousy husband and an even worse father." 

Still, Amanda Plummer went on to follow in her father's footsteps, and she's best known for her roles in Pulp Fiction and The Hunger Games. Fortunately for both her and her father, they did make up for lost time. By 2015, Christopher Plummer was able to describe them as having "a nice relationship."

No, he wasn't a gamer

When Bethesda announced the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, they had no idea what a juggernaut they were going to have. According to Digital Trends, it's impossible to say just how many copies have been sold, but in 2021, it was still sitting comfortably at number 16 in Digital Trends' best-selling games of all time... and they were basing that on 2016 estimates that didn't include rereleases or the VR version of the game.

When the voice cast was announced way back in 2011 (via Cinema Blend), Christopher Plummer headlined as the voice of the Greybeards' Arngeir. If it seems like a leap from stage to High Hrothgar it absolutely is, and Collider asked him about it — briefly. 

Did he play? Was he a gamer? Was he as psyched for Skyrim as everyone else? "No, that is something that is totally foreign to me."

Christopher Plummer on the magic of theater and acting

These days, it's often not enough to watch and enjoy a film — many want to pull back the curtain and find out how it all comes together. That extends to actors, too, and learning all about the weird ways they get into character. When Collider asked Christopher Plummer about how he prepared for roles on the stage and on film, he quickly made it clear that he wasn't going to talk about it.

After saying that it was essentially none of their business, he explained that the world of moviemaking had pretty much no mystery left to it and that sort of made him sad. He continued: "You don't want the magician to show his tricks, or how he did them, do you? So, I do think that is a very private thing that we actors should protect ourselves from." He did say that getting ready for roles got easier as time went by and he got more and more experience, until "you can tackle great roles knowing that you have a mastery of technique."

In other words? Whatever he did, it totally worked for him, and everyone should really just sit back and enjoy the show.

Christopher Plummer was becoming the new go-to guy

In 2017, Looper announced that director Ridley Scott had cut Kevin Spacey from a major role in All the Money in the World amid accusations of sexual misconduct. Spacey had already done days of work on the film, and they needed someone to not just step in, but to prep for reshoots... like, yesterday.

Scott headed to New York to catch Christopher Plummer just before he headed to Florida on vacation, and according to The Guardian, it all happened with shocking speed. Plummer signed on just a few weeks before the film was set to premiere, and he only had about two days to get to England and learn his lines. From start to finish, the whole thing was just a few weeks, and according to Plummer, his theater background provided some seriously valuable experience in learning lines on the fly... literally. 

He told The Hollywood Reporter that he refused an offer to watch the footage with Spacey and just sort of jumped in with both feet — adding that while he had met the real-life version of his character (J. Paul Getty) at parties a few times in the 60s and 70s, most of it was still "imagination of what the man must've been."

Christopher Plummer was super picky about who he worked with

When Christopher Plummer (pictured, with Shirley MacLaine) was brought in as a last-minute replacement for the disgraced Kevin Spacey, he had just days to prepare. When it came time to shoot, it wasn't just Plummer who was needed on set — costars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg had to return, too. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Plummer had nothing but accolades for both of them. He was an "enormous fan" of Williams, he said, and added that he "absolutely adore[d]" her. As for Wahlberg, he lauded him as "so good," and that "they were just delightful to work with."

And that's incredibly high praise, because Plummer isn't head-over-heels for this next generation of actors. After being lauded for the on-screen chemistry he had with Helen Mirren in The Last Station, he told Boston that he basically got along with everyone he worked with, because if he didn't respect them, he wasn't going to work with them. And as far as the 20-somethings he was dealing with in 2010, well...

"They are a problematic bunch. There's the odd one who comes to the front, but for the most part, it's all about being boys ... These young actors are not trained enough. They jump into television and want to be stars without doing any work. And they do become stars, but will it last?"