Shattering news — Ulrich Muhe, 54, who delivered one of the most touching and devastating performances of ’06 as the Stasi agent in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck‘s The Lives of Others, has died of stomach cancer. I’m told he had an operation immediately after the Oscar ceremony five months ago, but he lost the fight last Sunday.

The Lives of Others Ulrich Muhe at Toronto’s Sutton Place hotel — Saturday, 9.9.06, 4:55 pm

I fell deeply in love with Muhe’s Lives of Others performance, yes, after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival last September. But I felt a huge kinship with Muhe himself, partly due to interviewing him and chatting with him at a couple of TIFF parties, but also because I knew that his own disturbing history with the Stasi (they watched him very closely in the ’80s) was tied up in the role. I obviously didn’t know Muhe very well, but I feel right now as if an old friend is gone.
Sony Pictures Classics co-chairman Michael Barker called it “very, very sad news …he was a great actor, the Anthony Hopkins of Germany.” Barker said he’d first heard that Muhe “was in trouble” about two or three weeks ago.
Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy wrote this morning that Muhe’s performance “is the absolute core of this amazing film, and the images of him as an efficient tool of the state, then a man whose conscience slowly awakens, then a secret conspirator, and, finally, a man justified in his deeds if never acknowledged, are unforgettable. The film is a masterpiece and it’s impossible to imagine without him. It’s truly deflating to discover such a singular talent and then lose him in the same year.”
Muhe won Best Actor awards for his Others performance at the European Film Awards, the Copenhagen International Film Festival, the German Film Awards and the German Film Critics Association, among others.
The Lives of Others DVD will be out on 8.21.07. If you haven’t seen it, do.