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Swedish Actor Erland Josephson Dead at 88

Erland Josephson PR - H 2012
KERSTIN CARLSSON/AFP/Getty Images

The favorite of Ingmar Bergman and contemporary of Oscar nominee Max von Sydow died Saturday in Stockholm.

COLOGNE, Germany — Erland Josephson, the great Swedish actor best known for his many collaborations with director Ingmar Bergman, died Feb. 25 in Stockholm after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 88.

Perhaps only Josephson's contemporary, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Oscar nominee Max von Sydow, loomed so large over Sweden's film and theater scene as Josephson. In his long career, the self-trained actor appeared in nearly 100 films and TV series as well as countless stage productions.

His best-known work was with legendary Swedish director Bergman, whom he met during the late 1930s when Josephson, then just 16 years old, was cast in a production of The Merchant of Venice that the 21-year-old Bergman was directing.

It was the beginning of a lifelong collaboration that would see the actor and director work together on 40 films and stage plays, including such cinematic classics as Scenes From a Marriage (1973) and Fanny and Alexander (1982). Bergman's films made Josephson an international star and, for the cine-literate of the time, something of a symbol of the 20th century Western man:  self-centered, introspective, aloof and, above all, neurotic.

Hollywood came calling, but Josephson preferred the European film and theater scene. He reportedly turned down Richard Dreyfuss' role in Jaws 2, saying he'd prefer to have "intellectual battles with [Scenes From a Marriage co-star] Liv Ullmann than fight with some shark."

He nevertheless became a familiar face in the European art house scene, with roles in Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991) and Ulysses' Gaze (1996) from Greek director Theo Angelopoulos, who died in January.

While Josephson's name will forever be linked with Bergman, he also had a fruitful collaboration with another giant of the European film scene: Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Josephson starred in Tarkovsky's final two films: Nostalgia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986), the latter of which won the BAFTA for best foreign-language film.

In addition to his acting, Josephson was creative director of Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theater from 1966-75 — a position he took over from Bergman — and was a prolific writer of plays, novels and memoirs. He also directed the film Marmalade Revolution (1980), which screened in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Josephson is survived by his wife, Ulla Aberg, and five children.