Actor Ulrich Mühe has died. The 54-year-old was best known abroad for his portrayal of an East German Stasi secret police officer in the film Oscar-award winning film "The Lives of Others."
Mühe may have gained international notoriety in the movies, but the theater was his home
Mühe's family said on Wednesday that the actor had died on Sunday. He was buried in the town of Walbeck in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where he lived. The actor had been suffering from stomach cancer, which he only confirmed in a newspaper interview that was published the day of his death.
Born in Grimma, Saxony, Mühe established himself in the GDR, and later reunified Germany, as a versatile actor on the stage, television and the movies. But theater was his preference and he celebrated some of his biggest successes acting in plays by Heiner Müller.
Mühe debuted on the stage in 1979 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, present-day Chemnitz. Müller discovered the young man and brought him to East Berlin's Volksbühne theater. Mühe later became an ensemble member at the renowned Deutsches Theater, once led by Bertolt Brecht. He was feted for his performances of Goethe's "Egmont" and Lessing's "Nathan the Wise."
Mühe as Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler in "The Lives of Others"
He won Germany's highest film award for his role as Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler in "The Lives of Others" ("Das Leben der Anderen"). The film itself attracted audiences worldwide after earning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year as well as top prizes in Europe and Germany. His repertoire included playing Hitler's teacher in a 2007 parody of the dictator as well as portraying a coroner in a German TV crime series.
"For some he was a star, for us he will be remembered as an artistic colleague and committed academy member," said German Academy of Arts President Klaus Staeck.
Marked by GDR dictatorship
Staeck recalled Mühe's speech on East Berlin's central Alexanderplatz on Nov. 4, 1989, days before the Berlin Wall fell, in which the actor proclaimed invalid the Communist party's power monopoly in East Germany to an audience of half a million demonstrators. Mühe was one of a number of artists who demonstrated against the regime at the time.
During his mandatory military service as a young man he had been assigned to guard the East German border at the Berlin Wall but was relieved of the task after he contracted an ulcer.
Mühe was named Best European Actor in 2006
The East German dictatorship continued to mark his private life. He fought in court to be allowed to continue publicly calling his ex-wife, actor Jenny Gröllmann, a secret informant for the Stasi, but he lost the case. Gröllmann died last year of cancer.
Stiftung Aufarbeitung, the government-funded organization tasked with examining and reappraising East Germany's Communist dictatorship, lauded Mühe in a statement Wednesday.
"Through his impressive performance ... Ulrich Mühe sensitized an audience of millions to the Stasi's machinations and their consequences," the statement said, adding that Mühe had been an active and valued participant in the foundation's events.
When asked how he prepared for his role as Stasi officer Wiesler in "The Lives of Others," Mühe responded, "I remembered."
Mühe was married to actor Susanne Lothar and had five children from three marriages.