Günther Kaufmann

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Günther Kaufmann
Kaufmann on 29 January 2009
Born (1947-06-16)16 June 1947
Munich, Germany
Died 10 May 2012(2012-05-10) (aged 64)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1970–2012

Günther Kaufmann (16 June 1947 – 10 May 2012) was a German film actor best known for his association with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Fassbinder directed Kaufmann in a total of 14 films, casting him in leading and minor roles. Kaufmann was also romantically involved with the director for a time.[1]

In 2002, Kaufmann was accused of murder in relation to the 2001 death of Hartmut Hagen, a 60-year-old accountant whom Kaufmann's wife had defrauded.[2][3] The death was ruled accidental, though Kaufmann was sentenced to prison for lesser crimes relating to the incident. In 2005, a new police investigation discovered that Kaufmann was innocent, and had confessed to the crimes to cover up for his late wife, who may have been the perpetrator. He was subsequently released from prison and resumed his acting career.[4]


Günther Kaufmann was born on 16 June 1947 in the Hasenbergl neighborhood of Munich. His mother was German and his father was an African-American soldier stationed in Germany following the end of World War II.

Not an actor by training, Kaufmann was discovered by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. His first role was in 1970, a bit part in a made-for-television production of Bertolt Brecht's play Baal, directed by Volker Schlöndorff. Fassbinder played the title role. The same year, Fassbinder cast Kaufmann in his film Gods of the Plague as a character named Günther.

Relationship with Fassbinder[edit]

Though Kaufmann was married when he met Fassbinder, the two men began a romantic relationship. Kaufmann is often described as the first major love interest of the director's career. Like many of Fassbinder's relationships, it was troubled, and the director would often try to buy Kaufmann's affection with expensive presents, particularly cars. During their relationship, Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven, an actress who, like Kaufmann, regularly appeared in the director's films and was a member of his tightly-knit circle of friends.

By 1971, Fassbinder and Kaufmann had split up, and the director began an even more troubled relationship with a Moroccan immigrant, El Hedi ben Salem. Fassbinder and Kaufmann continued working together though, and Kaufmann continued to appear in the director's films, sometimes also contributing songs to the soundtrack. He appeared in Fassbinder's last movie, Querelle (1982).

After Fassbinder's death, television work and third marriage[edit]

After Fassbinder died of a drug overdose in 1982, Kaufmann played bit roles in films. In 1986, he married his third wife, Alexandra Kaufmann, to whom he would remain married until her death from cancer in 2002.

In the 1990s, he had begun to act more frequently, appeared in recurring roles on many television shows. However, around 2000, acting jobs began to dry up. His wife's cancer was getting worse, and it was because of the need to pay for her treatments that the Kaufmanns ended up defrauding their accountant, Hartmut Hagen, of almost $500,000.

Death of Hartmut Hagen, conviction and exoneration[edit]

In 2001, Kaufmann's accountant Hartmut Hagen was found dead, apparently suffocated. Kaufmann and his late wife had defrauded Hagen of $500,000,[2] and Kaufmann was accused of the accountant's murder. In 2002, the death was ruled accidental after Kaufmann, who weighed close to 260 pounds (118 kg) at the time of the incident, confessed that he had fallen on the frailer Hagen during a fight.[4] He was instead sentenced to 15 years in prison for blackmail and robbery in relation to the incident.[2] In 2005, a police investigation revealed that Kaufmann was not the perpetrator of the crimes, but had confessed in order to cover up for his wife.[4] The investigation also revealed that Hagen was in fact murdered, but by three men hired by Kaufmann's wife without his prior knowledge.

Kaufmann was released from prison in 2005. He then resumed his acting career, which had been waning around the time of Hagen's death, appearing in supporting roles in films and on television.

His son Davy (born 1969) is a rock and soul singer and reached the final of the 2009 version of Germany's "Got Talent".[5]


Kaufmann died on the evening of 10 May 2012 at the age of 64 having suffered a heart attack while out for a walk in the Grunewald locality of Berlin. A passer-by and paramedics tried to resuscitate him on site for two hours.[6][7][8]



  1. ^ Zölzer, Franziska (September 2008). "Biographie Rainer Werner Fassbinder". www.film-zeit.de (in German). Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "German 'crush killer' jailed". BBC News. 28 November 2002. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Tod eines Steuerberaters – Muss Günther Kaufmann erneut vor Gericht?". Berliner Morgenpost. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c "Actor in German detective series caught in murder whodunnit". accessmylibrary.com. 28 August 2003. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "Das Supertalent 2009: Davy Kaufmann im Finale". topnews.de (in German). 2 December 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "Herzinfarkt auf der Straße: Schauspieler Günther Kaufmann ist tot" [Heart attack in the street: actor Günther Kaufmann is dead]. Focus (in German). 11 May 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "Günter [sic] Kaufmann stirbt nach Herz-Attacke auf der Straße" [Günter [sic] Kaufmann dies on the street after heart attack]. Hamburger Abendblatt (in German). 11 May 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Schultejans, Britta (11 May 2012). "Ein Leben wie ein Film". heute.de (in German). Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 

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