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Actor Bruno Ganz, Whose Hitler Portrayal Anchored Countless Viral Memes, Has Died

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Adolf Hitler cooped up in his Berlin bunker in "Downfall" and an angel in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire," has died. He was 77.

German news agency dpa reported that Ganz's management said Saturday he died in Zurich.

Ganz, a prominent figure in the German-language theater world, shifted into movies in the 1970s, appearing in Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu" and Wenders' "The American Friend" among others. In one of his more recent appearances, he starred as Sigmund Freud in "The Tobacconist," released last year.

In January 2005, when Ganz was in his sixties, he visited San Francisco for a retrospective showing of his some of his most famous films at the Castro Theatre.

His role as Hitler in "Downfall," though not widely seen at its release lived on with the arrival of YouTube and social media.

MORE FROM CBS NEWS: Hitler 'Downfall' Parodies Removed from YouTube (2010)

"Downfall," a German film released in 2004 about Hitler's last days, was adopted for countless online video parodies.

Every spoof keys off the same scene in the film when a furious, defeated Hitler -- played by Ganz -- unleashed a furious speech to his staff, huddled with him in his underground bunker.

The scene takes on a wildly different meaning when paired with English subtitles about, say, a late-season collapse by the New York Mets or the removal of a headphone jack on Apple's iPhone.

Indeed almost any subject replacing the scene's original context -- including at least one parody about other parodies -- is made funnier by Ganz's intensely melodramatic screen rant.

Regarding his role as Hitler, "I was interested in him," Ganz told San Francisco Chronicle writer G. Allen Johnson in a 2005 interview. "A lot of critics did not like it. They complained about 'Hitler's too human' in this kind of portrait. But I think we did the right thing."

Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller said Ganz was "one of the greats" of the screen and stage. He said that "the death of Bruno Ganz is a great loss for the German-speaking theater and film world."

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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