Actor, Philanthropist Karlheinz Bohm Dead at 86

Karlheinz Bohm

The actor played Austrian kaiser Franz Joseph alongside Romy Schneider in the "Sissi" films of the 1950s and was the creepy serial killer in Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom."

Acclaimed actor Karlheinz Bohm, who rocketed to international stardom as Kaiser Franz Joseph in the Sissi films of the 1950s and had a second career as the founder of the charity group Humans for Humans, has died. He was 86.

The only child of conductor Karl Bohm and the soprano Thea Linhard, Bohm was perhaps destined for a life on the stage. But instead of music, he pursued acting, first in the theater and later in some 45 films and numerous television productions.

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Bohm's international breakthrough came playing opposite Romy Schneider as Austrian kaiser Franz Joseph in the historic melodrama Sissi (1955). The film was a global hit and spawned two sequels. Their success led to international offers, including the leading role in Michael Powell's serial killer classic Peeping Tom (1960), where he plays the creepy, cinematic voyeur Mark Lewis.

In the U.S., Bohm appeared as Jakob Grimm in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) for MGM and as Ludwig van Beethoven in The Magnificent Rebel, part of a Walt Disney television anthology, which was released theatrically in Europe.

In the 1970s, Bohm worked extensively with groundbreaking New German cinema director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, appearing in four of his films between 1974 and 1975, including Effi Briest. He later said it was Fassbinder who opened his eyes to politics and turned him into an activist on global issues.

Activism overtook acting in Bohm's life after he lost a bet on German TV show Wanna Bet? and agreed to found the charity Humans for Humans (Menchen fur Menchen), which raises money to help people in Ethiopia. He received numerous honors for his charitable work, including the Balzan Prize in 2007 and the Essel Social Prize in 2011 as well as, in 2003, honorary Ethiopian citizenship. In 1991, he married Almaz Teshome, a native of Ethiopia, with whom he has two children. Last December, she gave up her position as CEO of Humans for Humans in order to care for her ailing husband.

Bohm is also survived by five children from his previous marriages.