He could emit danger, but also tenderness: Gottfried John, character, Fassbinder actor, James Bond villain and timid soul, succumbed to cancer at the age of 72.
He had what is respectfully called a “mug” in fairgrounds and harbor dives, and a lot resonates with that. The knowledge, for example, that nothing was cradled to the bearer of such a face, that he himself has sculpted on it in long, hard nights, but also that experiences you can´t buy for all the money in the world have been buried in it. You can assume, that a “mug” romps through everything.
For the actor Gottfried John, who has participated in more than 130 films and had become a regular actor with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, including “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, the Bond villain in “Goldeneye”, where he brought Pierce Brosnan in desperate straits, and finally to the comic Caesar with golden laurel wreath, this must have probably felt individually different. Especially, of course, at a young age.
“I can not look at myself in the mirror. Nobody has such a wrinkled snout with slit eyes and a forehead like a Neanderthal! And that on such a long, skinny frame!” With these words, he allegedly had appealed his grief to his mother at the age of seventeen – he recalls in his memoirs “Confessions of an Unbehaved” . His mother must have been an eccentric woman. as she had advised him to become an actor
John, who was born in Berlin in 1942, never knew who his father was – and as the mother later lost custody for him, he partly grew up in homes, but then she abducted him to Paris. She was also the person who advised him to become an actor, what was probably the best thing she could do. “This is the best job, you will be admired, you are the absolute center of attention.” But struggling with his self-image, painfully shy John said: “I hate to be the center of attention!” Nevertheless, he began studying acting in Berlin – and already gets the large roles from Hans Neuenfels: Richard III. for instance or Macbeth.
But only Rainer Werner Fassbinder realized his full potential – because he himself had a “mug” and knew how to make the most of it. John was brilliant as a toolmaker with revolutionary ideas in “Acht Stunden sind noch kein Tag” (“Eight Hours are Not a day”). As the opponent of Franz Biberkopf in “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, he exudes a lanky hazard, under which one always feels tenderness – the most menacing mix of all. But childishness lay beneath, like the beautiful scene from “In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden” (“In a Year of 13 Moons”) shows, where John could parody a Jerry Lewis number.
The world career then followed of course with good reason, but the years also brought forward new and surprising sides to him – from a convincing alcoholic television Commissioner to the charming reciter of Rilke poems. On Monday, Gottfried John succumbed to cancer near Munich – four days after his 72nd birthday.
Source: Translated from the Obituary of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, originally written by Thomas Kniebe