Hannes Messemer

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Hannes Messemer
Born Hans Edwin Messemer
(1924-05-19)19 May 1924
Dillingen an der Donau, Bavaria
Died 2 November 1991(1991-11-02) (aged 67)
Aachen
Cause of death
Heart attack
Nationality German
Occupation Actor
Known for The Great Escape

Hannes Messemer (19 May 1924 – 2 November 1991) was a German actor. Born in Dillingen an der Donau, Bavaria, Messemer served on the Eastern Front of World War II and was eventually captured by Soviet soldiers. He managed to escape and make it back to Germany on foot. After the war, Messemer tried his hand at several jobs, before falling into acting in 1946. With only his natural talent and no training, he successfully secured roles with several major theatre companies in Tübingen, Hamburg, Munich and Berlin in the following ten years.

His big break in films came with a role in Rose Bernd in 1956. He was then cast in the major role of Colonel Rossdorf in the production of Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam the following year - a role which saw him awarded a Best Actor accolade. A series of successful roles followed, including The Doctor of Stalingrad, Der Transport (Destination Death), Die Brücke des Schicksals and the comedy Babette Goes to War with Brigitte Bardot. He achieved critical international acclaim for his role as Colonel Muller in the Roberto Rossellini production of General della Rovere (1959), with the film winning the Golden Lion at Venice that year.

Messemer is probably best known for his role as the commandant in The Great Escape (1963). The film had a star-studded cast, but it was Messemer, relatively unknown outside Europe, who uttered the film's most famous line (to Steve McQueen/Capt. Hilts): "It looks, after all, as if you will see Berlin before I do."

He continued to star in TV and theatre productions, becoming a familiar face to German television audiences for over 20 years. Some of his roles included major TV productions such as Union der festen Hand and Die Dämonen, as well as two years as Commissioner Deeds in the TV drama series "Sergeant Berry". He also lent his distinctive voice to radio and recorded works, including the writings of Mao, and a reading of the four books of the Gospels.

A heavy lifelong smoker, Messemer suffered throat cancer during the 1980s, and surgery left his voice at only a whisper. Forced to retire from acting, he appeared on German television for the last time in 1989, in a production with Agnes Fink.

Hannes Messemer died of a heart attack in Aachen. He was married four times, and was survived by two daughters.

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