Pfaff died at his home in Hamburg on Tuesday aged 65, after a relapse of the lung cancer that forced him to break off shooting the latest series of much-loved series Der Dicke (“The Fat One”) last autumn.
During a slow-burning but highly successful TV career, Pfaff rose to play a number of lead roles in major TV series, including a Franciscan monk in Bruder Esel (“Brother Donkey”), the eponymous police commissioner in Sperling, and the astute psychotherapist Dr. Maximilian Bloch in Bloch.
Latterly he had created yet another memorable character in Dr. Gregor Ehrenberg, the corpulent lawyer with a civic conscience, in Der Dicke.
Lutz Marmor, chairman of the state broadcaster ARD which aired many of Pfaff’s dramas, honoured the actor on Wednesday as “authentic, tenacious, sensitive, with a unique presence.”
Marmor said that he played Ehrenberg as a man “who gets involved where others look away, who lives out values like human sympathy and tolerance, even with all the slyness that marks a successful lawyer.”
The theme of a character whose unique talent was empathy ran through Pfaff’s work, and to some extent it carried over into his private life, when he became a special ambassador for the United Nations children’s organization UNICEF.
Pfaff himself said that he once wanted to become a therapist, so that he could better understand human nature, only to turn to drama “because it was a more exciting and playful” way to explore the depths of the soul.
Born in Dortmund in 1947, Pfaff began his show business career as a lowly director’s assistant in 1969. He later told the Hamburger Abendblatt, “An actor got sick in the production, and suddenly I was standing on the stage.”
Nevertheless, most of his theatrical career played out away from the footlights. After dropping out of his teaching studies, he began as a dramaturg, an author, and a director – it was not until much later that he discovered his acting passion, and after a grinding out a string of supporting roles, he was all of 50 years old when his breakthrough came.
Pfaff was also identified his weight as an important part of his sensibility, once telling Bunte magazine, “Being fat is something that keeps me grounded.”