He’s terrifying as Vigo the Carpathian in the ‘Ghostbusters’ sequel, but actor Wilhelm Von Homburg has a real life far more scary and twisted than his ghoulish character.
Born Norbert Grupe in 1940, von Homburg’s father Richard was a famous German boxer who was also (he said reluctantly) a Nazi soldier during World War II, even working at the Buchenwald death camp.
Norbert lived with his father and never talked to his mother who had been a passing fling, leading to a difficult childhood before he and Richard moved to California. The pair worked as a wrestling tag team and young Norbert changed his name to von Homburg, a move he later regretted because he worried it made him sound like a Nazi nobleman.
Most disturbingly, he was also later accused by his father of raping his step-mother, a crime he was never investigated for, the result of which may have meant he was actually the father of the girl he considered his half-sister.
Controversial boxing career
A light heavyweight, he was at one point considered 7th in the world in his class, but he became better known for his dandy-ish 1960s style and sexual openness, as well as his ambivalence about being liked by the audience, whom he sometimes spat at.
He is well-known in Germany for being a truculent interviewee, a reputation gained following a legendary TV sit down he did after losing to Oscar Bonavena in which he basically ignored the host for the duration while simultaneously looking like he wanted to kill him.
While he was occasionally labelled “the German Muhammad Ali”, his most famous moment in the ring was also his most notorious when he was disqualified for head-butting a world title challenger. Grupe always believed it was a conspiracy by the boxing authorities, including the French referee, to stop him winning.
Drugs, alcohol and crime
Always an extreme man, during his heyday he lived in the red light district and hung out with pimps and dealers, as well as frequenting brothels. Wearing large fur coats and smoking cigars, he was a paparazzi magnet for all the wrong reasons, revelling in the attention and dubbing himself “Prince”.
Unfortunately, his decadent lifestyle ended with him in prison after selling marijuana to a undercover policeman. During the 1980s he was jailed again for bodily injury and aiding prostitution. In total, he spent five years behind bars.
Abortive Hollywood career
Having appeared in several TV episodes of shows like ‘The Wild Wild West’ and ‘Gunsmoke’, his cinematic break came as one of Alan Rickman’s henchman (he dies off-screen) in ‘Die Hard’.
The following year, he was cast by director Ivan Reitman as Vigo in ‘Ghostbusters II’. His attitude hadn’t improved – in an interview with sports website Deadspin, the movie’s executive producer Michael C. Gross called von Homburg, “a crude, bigoted a**hole.”
He didn’t realise that his voice was dubbed by Max Von Sydow in the finished movie, only finding out when he watched the film at the premiere. When he saw what had happened, he stormed out of the screening.
Clearly his reputation preceded him because he didn’t get much work after that, playing a maître d’ in dreadful 1994 spoof ‘The Silence of the Hams’, while his final big screen appearance was in John Carpenter’s ‘In The Mouth of Madness’.
Cancer and death
Always hopeless with money, von Homburg was infamous for sponging off people and towards the end of his life even lived in his car. He finally succumbed to prostate cancer in 2004 aged 63 in Mexico.
His final act was both pathetically petty and a strange affirmation of his uncompromising approach to life. He deliberately told a friend to wait until exactly a month after he’d died to reveal the news to his half-sister, because that’s the same amount of time she’d waited to tell him after their father passed away.
Image credits: Rex_Shutterstock, Getty, Columbia Pictures