Maria Von Trapp, Inspiration for 'Sound of Music,' Dies at 99

4:36 PM PST 02/22/2014 by THR Staff, Fred Bronson
1965's "The Sound of Music"

UPDATED: The last of seven siblings, she toured the United States and Europe with her family, which inspired the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Maria Franziska (nee Von Trapp), the last surviving sibling of the storied Von Trapp family, has died. She was 99.

Marianne Dorfer, a family friend who runs the von Trapp Villa Hotel in Salzburg, Austria confirmed the news to the Austrian Times, saying "It was a surprise that she was the one in the family to live the longest because ever since she was a child she suffered from a weak heart. It was the fact that she suffered from this that her father decided to hire Maria von Trapp to teach her and her brothers and sisters. That of course then led to one of the most remarkable musical partnerships of the last century."

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Maria Franziska, born in 1914, was the second-eldest daughter of Georg Johannes von Trapp. After the death of her mother, Baron von Trapp would fall in love with and marry the woman he'd hired to teach his children. They would go on to have three children together. Along with her family, Maria Franziska fled her home in Salzburg when the Nazis invaded. One of seven brothers and sisters, she toured the United States and Europe as part of a family choir, and eventually inspired the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

The family moved to Vermont in 1942, and built a farmhouse where they took in boarders. On a post on the Trapp Family Lodge's website, Maria Franziska recalled her youth, and meeting the woman who would become her father's second wife: "As a result of scarlet fever, I was too sickly to walk the three miles to school every day, and the doctor advised that I stay home. This condition brought Maria Augusta Kutschera to teach me first grade gymnasium, the equivalent of middle school. She came to us as my teacher and after three years became our second mother."

Julie Andrews starred as Maria, Franziska's eventual stepmother in the classic film, with Christopher Plummer playing Baron von Trapp. NBC revived the story for The Sound of Music Live last year.

Heather Menzies Urich, who portrayed Franziska in the film, tells The Hollywood Reporter she first met her inspiration on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

"It was a show about large families. Ever since then we had a special affection for one another as I played her character in the movie, although the name was changed to Louisa," says Urich. "She wrote a very special letter to me when my husband, Robert Urich, passed away in 2002. The memory I treasure the most is singing 'Silent Night' in New York City with all of my von Trapp movie siblings, the real Von Trapps and the cast from the Broadway version of The Sound of Music when we were honored by the Austrian Board of Tourism. There wasn't a dry eye to be had. What a joy to spend that time with her! Bon Voyage, Maria! She had an amazing life! She will be sorely missed."

Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich in the classic film, remembers Franziska fondly.

"Maria was a beautiful force of nature. I sat in her cottage as she played the accordion and sang German folk songs for me not long before her passing," he tells THR. "She called me 'mine brudder' as she thought of me as the mirror to Rupert, her oldest brother in real life. Her music and her faith were the pillars of strength that supported her, as indeed they have the von Trapp family ever since they first started to sing together. A precious friend I will miss very much."

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