Actor Ulrich Mhe dies at 54 star of Jewish film fest movie

The co-star of one of the highest award-winning movies at the S.F. Jewish Film Festival died July 22 at his home in Walbeck, Germany.

Ulrich Mühe, a popular German actor, was 54. He and his family kept his stomach cancer so private that news of his death didn’t reach the Bay Area until the day after he was buried.

Mühe co-starred in “Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler,” which won the Freedom of Expression award at the S.F. fest. In the film, Mühe plays a Jewish acting teacher who is plucked out of a concentration camp to coach Hitler so he can regain his charisma for an upcoming speech.

“Ulrich brings a depth and humanity to a character that otherwise might be seen as a fish out of water,” said Peter Stein, director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. “It’s a key role, and he’s the heart and soul of the film.”

Mühe recently starred in the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film “The Lives of Others.” In that movie, he played an agent with the East German secret police who was assigned to keep a playwright and his lover under constant surveillance, only to become fascinated by them and frustrated by the communist state.

Dani Levy, the director of “Mein Fuehrer,” was in San Francisco with Stein when they heard the news of Mühe’s death. Levy spoke about Mühe during a meeting at the German consulate.

“Dani talked about how much of a creative struggle it was for Ulrich to find the right tone in his performance, and what a tremendous talent he was,” Stein said. “He also remarked that Ulrich was poised to enter a completely new realm of success after ‘The Lives of Others’ became so internationally prominent. How sad it is.”

Mühe is survived by his wife, actress Susanne Lothar and their two children, and three other children from two previous marriages.

Stein and the Film Festival staff have dedicated subsequent screenings of “Mein Fuehrer” to Mühe’s memory. The final screening of the film will be at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th St., San Rafael.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.