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Germany's James Dean Dies at 69

March 4, 2003

Horst Buchholz, the German star of countless teenage rebel movies during the 1950s, as well as the Hollywood classic western "The Magnificent Seven," has died in Berlin.

Berlin's own rebel without a causeImage: AP

Horst Buchholz, the actor from East Berlin who became known as Germany's James Dean and winner of international fame in his role as Chico in "The Magnificent Seven," died on Monday at the age of 69. Buchholz, who was recovering from a broken thighbone in the Charité hospital in Berlin, failed to recover in the intensive care ward where he was suffering from pneumonia.

His career spanned over 40 years and included numerous different characters. Known in his home country as the James Dean of German films for the rebellious teens he played in the late 1950s, Buchholz moved to the United States where he was a virtual unknown and scored his first Hollywood hit in 1960 with a role in the classic western "The Magnificent Seven," alongside Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and James Coburn.

Horst Buchholz
Buchholz in Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three"Image: AP

Buchholz was then reunited with Coburn a year later on the set of Billy Wilder's film "One, Two, Three", where he played the communist son-in-law of a Coca-Cola executive. The film, set in Germany's postwar capital at the time of the Berlin Wall's construction, took Buchholz back to where it all began.

Shoemaker's son turned screen idol

Berlin was familiar ground for the shoemaker's son who was born on December 4, 1933 in the city's working class Prenzlauer Berg district. After a tough childhood during the 1930's, the young Buchholz was to return to his divided home city in the wake of World War II. He had been living in relative safety in the German countryside where many children had been sent to avoid the Allied bombing raids on the capital.

Not long after his homecoming, Buchholz landed his first stage role in a Berlin theater version of the German children's classic "Emil and the Detectives." He dropped out of high school soon after, in 1950, took acting lessons and worked towards a film career with roles on stages across Berlin over the next five years. He appeared in many German films during the late 1950s and also plied his trade abroad, making films in Britain, Spain, France and Italy under his own name and the pseudonym Henry Bookholt before heading for the United States.

A career of peaks and troughs

After his role as the hot-headed gunslinger Chico in "The Magnificent Seven," Buchholz divided his time between Hollywood and European cinema before drifting into cameo and special appearances in episodes of television shows in the U.S. such as "Charlie's Angels" and "Logan's Run." After a string of TV movies, Buchholz returned to prominence with his portrayal of a Nazi concentration camp doctor in Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning 1997 film "Life is Beautiful." His final film, "Detective Lovelorn und the Pharao's Revenge," was finished in 2002.

Buchholz is survived by his wife, Myriam Bru, and two children.