Werner Klemperer, the character actor of theatre, film and TV who tried to shake his image as exasperated Nazi Col. Klink, from the TV series, "Hogan's Heroes," died Dec. 6 in his Manhattan apartment after a long illness, according to his publicist.
Mr. Klemperer, who was 80, had a varied career that took him from concert halls to Hollywood to Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatres. For almost 30 years, he was a council member on the governing board of Actors' Equity Association.
The son of famed conductor Otto Klemperer, Mr. Klemperer was born in Cologne, Germany. He stayed connected to classical music as a frequent guest narrator for symphony orchestras, but might best be known as the bumbling commandant of a World War II prisoner of war camp in the unlikely TV sitcom, "Hogan's Heroes." His sour-puckered Col. Wilhelm Klink was frequently outsmarted by the wily Allied prisoners. He won two Emmy Awards in his career.
Mr. Klemperer was seen on Broadway as Herr Schultz in the 1987 Harold Prince-helmed Broadway revival of Cabaret, singing "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married" opposite Regina Resnick. The role earned him a Best Featured Actor Tony Award nomination.
He also appeared on Broadway in Night of the Tribades with Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson. Among many stage credits, according to his Playbill bio, Mr. Klemperer appeared in The Master Class (for Roundabout Theatre Company), Idiot's Delight (at the Kennedy Center), Hang on to Me (Guthrie Theatre) and Simone Madrad (La Jolla Playhouse). At the Metropolitan Opera, he appeared as Pasha Selim in Mozart's Abduction From the Seraglio under the direction of John Dexter. He also appeared in productions of The Great Sebastians, Cyrano, The Sound of Music and The Merry Widow.
Among his motion pictures are "Youngblood Hawke," "The Goddess," "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Ship of Fools."
His colleagues at Actors' Equity called him a tireless supporter of the stage actors' union who worked on many committees — including the Committee For Racial Equality (which sought to get minority actors casting opportunities) and the Alien Committee (which sought to give American actors a shot at roles in productions that may have originated overseas) — over the years. From 1974-1989 he served three terms as a Principal Councillor. He was elected fourth vice president in 1988, and held that position until 1994. He chaired the Picket Committee.
"He was always available to help the union," Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg said in a statement. "He would travel, picket, be wherever he was needed. He was a caring, charming and courtly gentleman, and will be sorely missed by the Association, as well as myself.
Mr. Klemperer said in the past that "Hogan's Heroes" was a satire, a parody, and should not be taken seriously. He said he had no regrets acting in a show that some said trivialized the horrors of Nazi prison camps. He did, however, regret that he was so identified as a German character actor — he also played Adolf Eichmann in the film, "Operation Eichmann," among other roles — and made a conscious choice to turn down German or Nazi roles.
"Not only was [typecasting] a concern," Mr. Klemperer said in a 1996 radio interview, "for the first couple of years we had a choice to make. And that is, do I accept offers for roles that were not Col. Klink, but they were the same kind of character, or do I stay away from that in order to remove as much of the image as possible and continue my work — and I decided on the latter because I thought that was better for my career as an actor. I may have lost a bunch of money because of it, but it was worth the trip to me."
He repeated the voice of Col. Klink in a guest spot on "The Simpsons."
He is survived by his wife, actress Kim Hamilton Klemperer, daughter Dr. Erika Klemperer Webster of San Francisco, son Mark Klemperer of New York and sister Lotte Klemperer of Zurich.
— By Kenneth Jones