MUNICH — (MunichNOW Life) — The French actor Pierre Brice died at the age of 86 on the 6th of June 2015. Many will mourn, but his legacy will live on.
Secretive, righteous, and noble — this is how the film character Winnetou, played by Pierre Brice, will be remembered by the generations of children and adults enthralled by his achievements. Pierre Brice gave the “Karl May” novels life and meaning. Brice became famous mainly in Germany; now he has died at the age of 86 in Paris from severe pneumonia.
Today, one can hardly imagine the grief and anger the audience expressed when Pierre Brice died for the first time in the 1965 film “Winnetou III”. The fans’ emotional outpouring left the producer Horst Wendlandt no choice but to raise Winnetou from the dead. Even though all this attention was good for business, Wendlandt feared for his own life due to all the resentment that was directed towards him.
Once he coined the beautiful saying: “My happy hunting grounds are in Germany.” Winnetou is finally back home – forever. And one does not exaggerate when describing his death as the end of a chapter of West German cultural history.
That Pierre Louis Baron de Bris, born in 1929 in France, would become one of the most influential actors in Germany, is an irony of fate – and illustrates perfectly the recent history. Brice was the living reconciliation of two nations. As a teenager he was in the Resistance and lost relatives in German concentration camps. After the war, he volunteered as a paratrooper and combat diver to go to Indochina, which is now Vietnam, and later to Algeria. He was decorated for his bravery.
Pierre Brice was the idol of a whole generation
Brice was the idol of a whole generation: The noble savage, who always meant well and was prepared in times of need. The Germans loved the big-screen adventures, which were depicted completely differently from the actual U.S. Western. The message of “Winnetou” was simple: all men are brothers — and if there are difficulties, it is only because there are unscrupulous profiteers who exploit the people for their own benefit.
Pierre Brice became famous during the 1960s. This was a time where Germany was trying to come to terms with its past. With the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the Auschwitz trials, the country had just been reminded of its ugly background. After the war, the citizens started to contribute to the reconstruction and economic miracle of their country. This was the first step towards recognising and accepting the past. “Winnetou” and the Karl May films were an ideal concept that built on the idea of international understanding rather than racial hatred, peaceful coexistence instead of war and annihilation. This allowed the German population to understand and acknowledge their dreadful history.
For Brice, however, it became clear the films had ended his acting career. After his last film “Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of Death” in 1968, Brice played with the idea of going into retirement. He eventually continued to work on a variety of projects, but could never shake the Winnetou persona. He appeared in festivals as chief of the Apaches. Germany was his home. He married Hella Krekel and built a house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Ceremony in Munich
Relatives, friends, and companions will gather together in Munich to pay their respect to the French superstar on 18 June (between 9 and 12 Thursday morning at St Michael’s Church on the Neuhauserstraße). The coffin will be laid out for several hours.
The fans of Pierre Brice will get the opportunity to say goodbye to their idol in person. For three hours, from nine to twelve o’clock, his coffin will be laid out in the Holy Cross Chapel of St. Michael.
The funeral will take place in the days to come. But not, as is often claimed, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but in the Munich suburb of Gräfelfing with his wife’s family. “We have found a beautiful spot under an old tree,” said Brice’s sister Gabi Dück.
As Apache chief Winnetou, he will however remain immortal — and always in our hearts.
Winnetou & Shatterhand in the Valley of the Dead
Starring Pierre Brice and Lex Barker