"My secret to a long, healthy life"
December 29, 2015 7:55 PM   Subscribe

He lived to the age of 108, having quit smoking the previous year so his new young wife would "have him as long as possible". He sang at his own centenary at which time he was awarded the title Kammersänger. He was said to be Adolf Hitler's favorite actor. The 82-year-old Johannes "Jopi" Heesters sings Freut Euch (Das große Fest kommt bald).

"My secret to a long, healthy life is to always keep working. It keeps me busy and happy and gives me a reason to stay alive."

Wikipedia article: Johannes Heesters.

Heesters was born at Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 1903. He wanted to be an actor by the age of 16, first appeared on stage in 1921 at Amsterdam, and his first film was the (Dutch) 1924 silent movie Cirque Hollandais, in which his role was not named. He starred in a couple further Dutch movies before relocating to Germany in 1935: he spoke German well, had a good tenor voice and charm, and he rapidly gathered movie roles: at least one a year from 1935 to 1947 while maintaining a parallel career as a cabaret singer.

During WWII, he became known as Hitler's favorite actor, a favor he returned with performances for the German Army, including an infamous one at Dachau. The Dutch, for whom WWII was extremely straitened, protested his performance in 2004 for profiting from these events during the war.

His best-remembered film performance is the 1946 Die Fledermaus in which he played Herbert von Eisenstein. On stage he played Count Danilo Danilovich in Die lustige Witwe and it is a role he cherished. Many pictures of Heesters show him with the Count's hat, cape and cane.

Throughout his career he embraced new media while retaining his success in older ones. His television career began in 1956 and, though increasingly the subject of documentaries as he aged beyond 100, stayed active in it until the time of his death.

Song examples:
Gasparone, ich werde jede nacht von Ihnen traumen
Die Mooie Molen
Die kraft Mines

Credits.

Awards.

Heesters' Web site: www.johannes-heesters.de
posted by jet_silver (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Somewhat coincidentally, Volker Kühn died a couple of months ago. I suppose you can't say that the good die young - Kühn lived to the age of 81 - but comparatively speaking, Hitler's apologist had a quarter-century over his critic: Danilo In Dachau.

You can see a photo of Heesters visiting Dachau here (German link). Heesters defense was - or became - that while he had toured Dachau, he hadn't actually performed there. I don't particularly see that this make a difference, but Heester's family sued Kühn anyway - and lost.

Anyway, I'm glad to learn that the muck of his war years stayed with him. There are moral crimes that may never be prosecuted, but we that doesn't stop us from judging them for ourselves.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:45 PM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yup. What I've taken from this is that some can be forgiven if they live long enough. Glad those stalwart Dutch people turned out to shame him.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:05 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sort of a Teutonic Nelson Eddy. The Die Mooie Molen video is worth watching for the hairstyles and dresses alone...
posted by jim in austin at 1:22 AM on December 30, 2015


The popular cabaret singer, who resides in southern Germany, has said he knew nothing about the Holocaust, even though he visited the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

Where is he buried?

I want to make a map of where those who are responsible for genocide are buried.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:35 AM on December 30, 2015


hal_c_on: that map will encompass most of germany, a lot of europe, and an unfortunate number of north american and asian countries. It's a noble project, but the list of the complicit is a depressingly long one.
posted by el io at 1:40 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Derails like this make me believe South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission truly came up with a better idea.
posted by fairmettle at 2:11 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Old Nazi, he's dead, good. Hope throughout his long life he had time to think of all the people his leader killed who did not get to live even to grow up.
posted by mermayd at 4:16 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, why are we promoting the memory of this jerk on MeFi? Letting him rot, forgotten, seems to me the more appropriate response.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:30 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thank goodness that we US citizens don't have any blood our hands, and entertainers who have performed in Vietnam and/or Iraq and/or for Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagen, Bush 1 or 2, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Obama, Gates et all haven't had to be censured in the court of public opinion. Maybe they'd have needed to have, oh, I don't know, maybe sang a song or two and twirled some dance steps at Abu Ghraib?

I've never been on a stage and sang a song or acted or any of the other fun things he did, but I also would love to live to 108 years old -- isn't that the best? (Um, I would like to live to 108 if I were still moving/lucid/smiling/happy/social/relatively pain-free like Heesters was. The last of those, the relatively pain-free part, that's the most negotiable for me; YMMV.)

My paternal grandfather (Danish heritage, crossed the pond at 18 years old) hit 94, lived in his own home until the day of his death, actively participated in his church and his family -- his 90th birthday party was something else, *everybody* turned out. What a show!

My father hit 83 before the Alzheimer's and a brain tumor started to take him down, like wolves tearing down a deer, he was 84 when the show ended, and mostly Not At Home that last year. But when he was 80 he looked like he was 60, a good 60, too, a smiling, laughing, Paul Newman 60. The Alzheimer's came down his mothers side, all of his sibs got it -- will us kids get it? My older sibs are still clear, in their early 70s.

My mother made it to 93 -- no Alzheimer's on her side, she outlived all of her siblings, all of my fathers siblings, too. She had a *lot* of pain from car wrecks she'd been in, that is where my quibbling on the pain part is; my mother was Not Having Fun those last few years. She's the one who gave me the heart attacks -- she had the exact same heart attack (it's really something else, the exact same blockage in the exact same location, to boot, my x-rays and hers all but identical) she had the exact same heart attack that I had almost exactly a year to the day after I had mine, she happened to be in the hospital for a broken leg, they wheeled her over and popped in a stent, easy-peasy.

So I've got a shot at the 90s at least*, and if health care keeps on improving (had I had those heart attacks even one year earlier than I did the show would have been over for me; as it is it's still ridiculous I'm here typing these words) if the health care keeps improving, who knows? 108 isn't but 14 years older than my grandfather was when he headed out the gate. I tend to see these brilliant docs as engineers, research docs I mean, they attack problems like engineers do, seems to me, and if they can't fix it this way they design a way around it. Amazing people, outstanding human beings. Were I to found a religion, I'd canonize them first off, and cardiologists also, and some shrinks, too, but not all of them -- I'd have to go on a case by case basis for them, look 'em dead in the eye and ask a few pointed questions...
*I just turned 61, already I'm hearing from people my age about "bucket lists" etc and the whole idea is totally annoying, it's like they're planning on taking off, or at the very least seeing it as "sometime soon." Pah! Bah! Humbug! Get away from me! Get thee behind me! They'll have to drag me outta here, I am in no hurry, at all, other than perhaps a few days (okay, a few weeks, if you want the whole truth) in July or August here in Austin, when death would absolutely be a relief.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:50 AM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love his frietsaus.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2015


um, Dachau.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:23 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


that map will encompass most of germany, a lot of europe, and an unfortunate number of north american and asian countries. It's a noble project, but the list of the complicit is a depressingly long one.

Ummm, I don't think it's depressing. Most people go to the bathroom like 5-7 times per day. And this map would give them a place to go.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:45 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also would love to live to 108 years old -- isn't that the best?

My grandfather lived to be 101, without making friends with Hitler along the way.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank goodness that we US citizens don't have any blood our hands, and entertainers who have performed in Vietnam and/or Iraq and/or for Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagen, Bush 1 or 2, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Obama, Gates et all haven't had to be censured in the court of public opinion.

You know, I had this opinion before reading the Wikipedia article, myself. But apparently, he did more than perform in front of Hitler, he liked him, called him a 'good chap'. And Hitler liked him back. I'll give a lot of leeway to performer that are liked by awful folks, or even perform in front of them, but this went further than that.

And while he did apologize for calling him a 'good chap', that remark wasn't one he made sometime in the midst of the war, but in 2008.

Some folks in Germany no doubt kept their mouth shuts during WWII to save themselves. He moved to Germany in 1935, two years after Hitler came to power.

So yeah, fuck this guy.
posted by el io at 1:23 PM on December 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's almost funny: he was accused of performing for the SS in Dachau, but he denied that, and when photos came out he triumphantly pointed out that the album didn't show him performing. But ... what sort of person was given a guided tour of Dachau? Not your average musician, certainly. And he maintained his high opinion of Hitler even after that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:05 PM on December 30, 2015


What an amazing story and life. He must have seen some remarkable things in 108 years.

I know everyone's supposed to have been able to look at 1930s Germany with the hindsight of post-war eyes and insights from the Allies victory ("why didn't they just know it was all evil?"). But would you have done so at the time? Would I? History and memory only work backwards, unfortunately.
posted by theorique at 3:06 AM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know everyone's supposed to have been able to look at 1930s Germany with the hindsight of post-war eyes and insights from the Allies victory ("why didn't they just know it was all evil?"). But would you have done so at the time? Would I? History and memory only work backwards, unfortunately.

Right, but by 2008, the last time he apparently slipped and called Hitler a 'good chap', history was history, and there was little ambiguity, even/especially in Germany about Hitler as a person (unlike other countries that whitewash their evil deeds).
posted by el io at 4:00 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


In 2008, the guy was 105 years old. While propriety suggests that he probably should have kept that comment about Hitler to himself, who knows if he was completely lucid?
posted by theorique at 11:51 AM on January 2, 2016


I'm quite surprised at the continued defense of this guy's Hitler fanboyism.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:31 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


But would you have done so at the time? Would I? History and memory only work backwards, unfortunately.

By 1935, when he CHOSE to move to Germany, yes, what Hitler was and what Nazis were was abundantly obvious to contemporary people. Some were already fleeing in the other direction, for fucks sake. Please pick up a history book or maybe just read Wikipedia for a bit.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:23 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could start here in 1933 and see what happened over the previous two years, most of it international news even then, and consider what it means for a professional person in Europe to decide Germany is where they want to be in 1935.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:25 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Everybody knows now that Hitler was a bad guy, and there were a lot of signs then that Hitler was a bad guy then. For a person who specifically wanted to believe otherwise - as Heesters apparently did - there was ample propaganda in the form of magazine articles and profiles to soften his harsh image.

This was not limited to Europe - this article in the Toronto Star mentions how 'American newspapers preferred to buy Hitler pictures with a “human interest” angle'.

Some people want only the truth, as unpleasant as it is. Some people prefer a pretty veneer over whatever harsh reality lies beneath.
posted by theorique at 4:20 AM on January 3, 2016


Dude,
this person went to Dachau...and he thought nothing of it. actor, professional soldier, doctor, garbageman, engineer, librarian...you have to be F'd up to be that. I'm talking sociopathic shit.

How many Nazi sympathizers (then and now) would see the Dachau (from back in the day) and still hold firm to their views? This dude is one of those. No doubt most of the tough guys today wouldn't be able to handle that.

I have heard stories about being able to smell camps for miles. This recently departed went INTO Dachau, knowing exactly what he was smelling. I don't like seafood markets that don't have ample ventilation. This dude performed while smelling it.

Political stance or whatever...it takes a special kind of human being to do what he did.

Shout out to my boy, Hades. Hook me up on this guy.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:31 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Agreed - in the mid-1930s, by reading selected puff pieces, an unaligned person could probably stay ignorant of the more unpleasant aspects the Third Reich if he wanted to.

Touring Dachau in 1941, he would have to have become a true believer.
posted by theorique at 2:02 AM on January 4, 2016


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