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Culture

Armin Müller-Stahl: Renaissance Man Turns 75

He was one of the most celebrated character actors in the GDR and later in the world: Armin Müller-Stahl. The actor, writer, violinist and self-described "jester" recently celebrated three quarters of a century.

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He was one of the most revered actors in the GDR

Müller-Stahl has often had a reason to laugh because throughout in his circuitous life and ever-changing career, he has always managed to come out on top.

Born on Dec. 17, 1930 in the then-east Prussian city of Tilsit (now Russia), he was almost killed on May 1, 1945 by a Russian soldier -- but a brave Pole stopped the man. His father was not so lucky.

Growing up, Müller-Stahl wanted to be a famous violinist. Many long evenings, he publicly fiddled. Eventually, he began studying violin in Berlin and became a noted concert violinist and teacher. But after seeing "Hamlet" in a Berlin theater in 1950, he decided to take up acting and made his debut in 1953 after breaking off his acting studies after a year because of a lack of ability.

Armin Mueller-Stahl und Peter Ustinov

Müller-Stahl (pictured with the late Sir Peter Ustinov) gained fame in the west after emigrating in 1980

Regardless, he got acting engagements anyway. He played a number of classical roles at Berlin's Volksbühne, including Brother Martin in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan and Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Soon after, he became one of the prolific and highest paid actors in the GDR -- in theater and television -- and the most loved.

From stage to scree n

In 1958, he made an easy transition from stage to screen in "Heimliche Ehe (Secret Marriage)." In 1974, he appeared in Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), the only GDR film ever to receive a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. He won numerous distinctions including GDR television actor of the year in 1975.

In 1976, he signed the Biermann Resolution, a manifesto critical of the government of the GDR. This led to his blacklisting. Müller-Stahl spent his time writing a memoir, "Ordered Sunday," and painting before the government allowed him to emigrate to West Germany in 1980.

Afterwards, he rose to fame in Europe with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Lola" and "Veronica Voss" and also worked with other famous directors such as Andrzej Wajda ("Love in Germany"), Istvan Szabo ("Colonel Redl") and Agnieszka Holland ("Angry Harvest").

He began to grow more famous in the US after being cast in "Music Box" in 1989 and "Avalon" a year later. After numerous parts, he won an Oscar nomination for his role as the father of pianist David Helfgott in "Shine" in 1996.

Other roles include "Conversations with the Beast" (1996), "The Peacemaker, "The Game" and "The Assistant." He has also appeared on television, in made for TV movies and in guest appearances on "The West Wing."

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