Peter Berling, a husky German character actor best known for his many collaborations with Werner Herzog, who also appeared in Hollywood films such as Gangs of New York and The Name of the Rose, has died. He was 83.
Berling died Monday in Rome, his agency confirmed. The actor, who was also a successful film producer and accomplished novelist, had lived in the Italian capital since the late 1960s.
Berling acted in more than 130 films in his decades-long career but his best-known work was for Herzog, who cast him in several of his early films, including Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987). Berling also worked for Herzog’s contemporary, legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In addition to walk-on roles in numerous Fassbinder films, Berling produced the director’s 1971 drama Beware of a Holy Whore.
Born in 1934 in an area of West Prussia that is now part of Poland, Berling grew up in Berlin. He dropped out of high school and came to film only after first training to be a bricklayer and briefly studying architecture and graphic design. In addition to his many German films, he has had bit parts in a handful of international productions, including playing a knife act caller in Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York and the monk Jean d’Anneaux in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s medieval thriller The Name of the Rose.
The Middle Ages were an inspiration for Berling, who started a second career in Germany as a fiction writer, penning several best-sellers inspired by the medieval secret society the Priory of Sion.