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Finnish acting legend Lasse Pöysti dead at 92

The actor and director of film and stage delighted and united audiences in Finnish and Swedish for seven decades.

Lasse Pöysti Sodankylän elokuvafestivaaleilla vuonna 2008.
File photo of Lasse Pöysti from 2008, at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Finnish actor, director and theatre chief Lasse Pöysti has died at the age of 92.

During his 70-year career, Pöysti emerged as one of the most important names in the Finnish theatre and film world. He spoke both of the country's official languages in his work - Finnish and Swedish - becoming a cherished fixture on stages and screens.

His illustrious career spanned a world war, the advent of television, the downfall of the Soviet Union and the dawn of the internet age.

Pöysti was born in the small eastern town of Sortavala in what used to be part of Finnish Karelia in 1929. The town was handed back to the Soviet Union following the armistice of 1944.

His family was evacuated from the village during the war and eventually landed in Helsinki where the young Pöysti began his career as a child actor on the silver screen.

Movie fame, then theatre

After appearing in the movie The Suominen Family (Suomisen perhe in Finnish) in 1941, Pöysti became a household name.

Lasse Pöysti Suomisen Ollina vuonna 1941. Ollin siskoa Pipsaa esitti Maire Suvanto.
Actors Lasse Pöysti and Maire Suvanto in the 1941 film The Suominen Family, which helped to launch Pöysti's long career in show business. Image: Suomen Elokuva-arkisto

Thanks to a popular radio show based on the same characters, the fictional Suominens were already well-known to Finns, but until the movie version all of the characters were played by adults.

When the movie version was created, with Pöysti in the role of the family's charming son Olli, his success was immediate.

He returned to variations of the Olli role several times, not only in the film's sequels and radio shows but also in a series of similar variations on the role.

Although he first came to broad attention of audiences as a film actor - and later director - he began working in theatre early on too.

During his teen years he regularly performed at the Swedish-language theatre in downtown Helsinki, Svenska Teatern. Later he appeared for Finnish speaking audiences at the now-defunct Intimiteatteri modern theatre in Helsinki.

By the time he was 30 years old, Pöysti could look back on an exceptionally diverse career in the performing arts with many opportunities to expand upon in the future. But in his memoirs, Pöysti said he found himself at a crossroads when he was offered a new role at Helsinki's Lilla Teatern Swedish-language theatre in the mid-1950s and even considered leaving showbiz.

United audiences

However, he accepted the offer and ended up staying at the theatre for nearly two decades, seven of those years as Lilla Teatern's theatre director. During the twenty years he was at the theatre, the venue became known as a breath of fresh air in the small but thriving domestic theatre world.

Lasse Pöysti ja Birgitta Ulfsson marraskuussa 1966.
Pöysti and actor/theatre director Birgitta Ulfsson in 1966. Image: Markku Vuorela

Pöysti also worked as the director of films and theatre productions and led dramatic radio productions. When TV became more ubiquitous in Finnish homes, he found his way to theatrical productions on public broadcaster Yle's television airwaves.

Pöysti often said his most important acting work was the title role in a Helsinki City Theatre production of Bertolt Brecht's play Galileo in 1987. He spent the final decades of his acting career at the city theatre, but continued acting there and elsewhere until he retired in 2012.

Pöysti's boyish charm and likeability, as well as the ease with which he seemed to switch between Finnish and Swedish helped him become a national treasure to those who grew up - and then grew old - along with him.

Lasse ja Tom Pöysti tervehtivät presidentti Sauli Niinistöä ja rouva Jenni Haukiota Suomen 100-vuotisjuhlavuoden itsenäisyyspäivän vastaanotolla Helsingissä 6. joulukuuta 2017.
Pöysti arrives to the Independence Day reception at Helsinki's Presidential Palace in 2018, greeted by President Sauli Niinistö and wife Jenni Haukio. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

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