Hardy Krüger (German: [haːɐ̯.di ˈkʁyː.ɡɐ] (listen); born Eberhard August Franz Ewald Krüger; 12 April 1928 – 19 January 2022) was a German actor and author, who appeared in more than 60 films from 1944 onwards. After becoming a film star in Germany in the 1950s, Krüger increasingly turned to roles in international films such as Hatari!, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Wild Geese, Sundays and Cybele, A Bridge Too Far, The Battle of Neretva, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, The Red Tent, The One That Got Away, and Barry Lyndon.
Hardy Krüger was born in Wedding, Berlin, in 1928. Krüger’s parents were ardent Nazis and he stated in a 2016 interview that he was “raised to love Hitler“. From 1941, he attended an elite Adolf Hitler School at the Ordensburg Sonthofen. At the age of 15, Hardy made his film début in Alfred Weidenmann‘s The Young Eagles.
In March 1945, Krüger was assigned to the 38th SS Division Nibelungen and was drawn into heavy combat. The 16-year-old Krüger was ordered to shoot at an American squad. When he refused, he was sentenced to death for cowardice, but another SS officer countermanded the order. Krüger described this experience as his break with Nazism. He afterwards served as a messenger for the SS, but later escaped and hid out in Tyrol until the end of the war. He was a member of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and frequently spoke publicly against extremism and for democracy, citing his own experiences.
Life and work
Krüger continued his acting career after the Second World War with small stage roles. He could not afford to attend an acting school. He established himself as a German film star during the 1950s, appearing in Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach (1953), the German version of The Moon is Blue, directed by Otto Preminger. Krüger sought international roles because he found the German Heimatfilm cinema of the 1950s rather shallow. He first came to the attention of English language audiences in the 1957 British war film The One That Got Away, the story of Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to successfully escape from Allied custody and return to Germany.
In 1960, Krüger bought Ngorongoro, a farm in the Tanganyika Territory (now part of Tanzania), which he owned for 13 years. Ngorongoro and the area around it served as the setting for the film Hatari! (1962), directed by Howard Hawks, in which Krüger appeared with John Wayne.
Fluent in German, English, and French, Kruger worked in numerous European and American films. He had the leading role in the Oscar-winning Sundays and Cybele (1962), and a key role as the German engineer in the original version of The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). Other films he acted in include the comedy-drama The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), in which he played a German officer during the Second World War trying to find hidden wine in a small Italian town; Stanley Kubrick‘s Barry Lyndon with Ryan O’Neal (1975); Richard Attenborough‘s A Bridge Too Far, sharing a scene with Laurence Olivier, 1977; and The Wild Geese with Richard Burton (1978). Because of his stereotypical “Teutonic” look (blond hair and blue eyes), Krüger often played German soldiers.
In the late 1980s, Krüger largely retired from acting and became a writer, including novels, travel books and memoirs. He published 16 books from 1970 onwards. Four of them have been translated into English. He also directed a number of European television documentaries showing his travels around the world.
Personal life and death
Krüger married his third wife, Anita Park, in 1978. They lived in California and Hamburg. In the 1960s and 1970s, Krüger lived at the ranch “Hatari Lodge” (where the film Hatari! was filmed) at the foot of Mount Meru, Tanzania.