Ulrich Mühe

Died - Jul 22, 2007   |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Nathan Southern

Though world-renowned by the end of his short life, actor Ulrich Mühe earned and sustained a great deal of continental recognition as a movie actor in his native Germany for almost 20 years. Prior to his cinematic activity, Mühe learned construction, enlisted in the armed forces, and studied dramatic performance at the Hans Otto Theaterhochschule in Leipzig. Mühe debuted onscreen in the late '80s and early '90s, with such features as Die Frau und der Fremde (1985) and Schtonk! (1992), then rode to international fame largely on the crest of his collaborations with divisive Austrian helmer Michael Haneke, in whose films Benny's Video (1992) and Funny Games (1997) he starred. Mühe was particularly effective and memorable in the latter as Georg, a poor fellow who is set upon, along with his wife and son, by a pair of psychotic, homicidal "guests" during the family's stay at their lake house.

Mühe's broadest recognition, however, arrived in 2006, with his lead role in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others. This picture -- which netted the Best Foreign Film Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards (in February 2007) --concerns a surveillance officer for the Stasi secret police (Mühe) who lives in East Germany, circa 1984, and who makes his living eavesdropping on others' activities. The picture observes him as he spies on a gentleman suspected of treason -- but discovers that the fellow in question is in fact supremely loyal to the state, then finds his own loyalties and those of his victim shifting. The effort brought Mühe global attention and (along with the Haneke films, which attained a kind of cult following in the West) suggested decades of internationally oriented work for Mühe. On a note of tragic irony, this was not to be -- later that same year, in July 2007, Mühe died of stomach cancer in Frankfurt, Germany. He was 54.