BERLIN (AP) — Hardy Kruger, considered one of Germany’s finest postwar actors, has died. He was 93 years old.
His Hamburg-based literary agent, Peter Kaefferlein, said Thursday that Kruger died “suddenly and unexpectedly” on Wednesday in California, where he was living with his third wife, American-born writer Anita Park.
Kruger starred in the 1957 British film “The One That Got Away” about a captured German fighter pilot who stages a series of daring attempts to evade the Allies and, as the title suggests, ultimately succeeds.
His charm, good looks and the fact that he deserted the Nazi army towards the end of World War II helped Kruger land other roles at a time when Germans of his generation were still suspect abroad. .
Kruger appeared in a series of English-language adventure and war films, including “Barry Lyndon” (1975), “A Bridge too Far” (1977), and “The Wild Geese” (1978).
Later, he focused on making travel films for German television, writing books, and occasional stage performance.
Franz Eberhard August Krueger was born on April 12, 1928 in Berlin.
Initially, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his engineer father, but while at an elite Nazi boarding school he appeared in the 1944 film “Junge Adler.”
While it was intended as a propaganda film, Kruger’s encounter with older actors on set opened his eyes to the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.
As the war turned against Germany, Kruger’s Hitler Youth unit was drafted into the new SS “Nibelungen” division.
Kruger, who was 16 at the time, found himself fighting experienced American troops in southern Germany.
In a 2006 interview with the German daily Bild, he recounted how he and his classmates were sent to the front “as cannon fodder” in Hitler’s futile attempt to stop the Allied advance.
“I knew the war was lost,” he told the newspaper. “I knew there were concentration camps and that the Nazis were a bunch of criminals.”
Kruger deserted, was captured by the Allies, and spent some time as a prisoner of war. After the war he returned to acting, first in theaters and then in the booming German film industry.
Ambition drove Kruger to Paris and London where he studied French and English, and dropped the umlaut in his surname, in hopes of landing more glamorous roles in foreign films.
His breakthrough came when English director Roy Baker cast Kruger as Luftwaffe ace Franz von Werra in “The One That Got Away.” Kruger managed to fit the archetypal blond German soldier without appearing cold and superior – thus avoiding being cast as the villain in the war movie roles that would inevitably follow.
“I had no interest in playing the war criminal,” Kruger said in a 2003 interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, adding that he wanted to portray the many Germans who found themselves participating in the war against their thank you. Later, Kruger supported campaigns to educate younger generations about Nazi crimes and confront neo-Nazi groups in post-war Germany.
“Combating racism and educating young people was his personal mission in life,” Kruger’s agent said in a statement. “His human warmth, his joie de vivre and his unwavering sense of justice made him unforgettable.”
Once again in the role of a former fighter pilot, Kruger starred in the French film “Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray”, which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1963. Claude Martin, former ambassador de France à Berlin, said years later that the film inspired sympathy for the Germans among French moviegoers whose memories of the war were still fresh.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Kruger appeared in many international blockbusters, alongside John Wayne in the safari film “Hatari” (1962) and “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965), whose star cast included James Stewart, Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch.
A great traveler, he once owned a farm in Tanzania at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“After World War II, he was one of the first German actors to gain international recognition,” German Culture Minister Claudia Roth said in a statement. “Hardy Kruger’s power as an artist and his clear stance against right-wing violence will be missed,” she said.
Kruger is survived by Park and his children Christiane, Malaika and Hardy Jr. from previous marriages.
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