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Siegfried Rauch, the German actor who portrayed Steve McQueen’s ruthless racing rival Erich Stahler in the 1971 classic film Le Mans, has died. He was 85.
Rauch died Sunday night as a result of a fall in his hometown of Untersochering, Bavaria, his agency announced.
Rauch also appeared in the war films Patton (1970), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner; John Sturges‘ The Eagle Has Landed (1976); George P. Cosmatos‘ Escape to Athena (1979); and Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980).
Le Mans, directed by Lee H. Katzin, tells the story of the Porsche and Ferrari rivalry through the eyes of two drivers — Michael Delaney (McQueen) and Stahler. It was filmed on location at the Le Mans circuit in France and incorporated incredible footage from the actual 24-hour endurance event in 1970.
Off-camera, McQueen and Rauch became lifelong friends, with the American actor becoming the godfather to Rauch’s son Benedikt.
Rauch first came to the attention of McQueen with his small role as Captain Oskar Steiger in the best picture Oscar winner Patton. Their friendship was documented in the recent book Our Le Mans – The Film, The Friendship, The Facts by Hans Hamer.
“He grew up in America in the same way I’d grown up in Bavaria. Working with farmers for a glass of milk … he found that sort of thing fascinating,” Rauch recalled. “He came to visit me at my home. We were all sitting together, my mother was still alive, and I still remember what he said to me: ‘You know, I never had this.’ He meant a sense of home. He always had to fight, but he was good at it.”
Rauch was taught to drive his Ferrari by former British racing star Michael Parkes. The top speed they reached was 330 kmh (205 mph). “The smallest accidents would cause these cars to burst into flames,” he said. “And, of course, you had to get out fast, and there was no time to fumble with your safety belt. I learned that you have 15 seconds to get clear.”
In Fuller’s epic The Big Red One, Rauch portrayed Schroeder, the crafty and savage German who served as the counterpart to Lee Marvin’s unnamed sergeant. The film is noted for being heavily cut upon its original release, with a reconstructed version premiering decades later at the Cannes Film Festival.
In his homeland, Rauch was a prolific film and television actor, appearing as the captain of the cruise ship on the long-running program Das Traumschiff (think The Love Boat) and on the series It Can’t Always Be Caviar.
Survivors include his wife Karin and his sons Jakob and Benedikt.
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