German actor Horst Tappert, who as the calm and composed Inspector Derrick became a TV institution for 25 years in his home country and in many other territories, died Dec. 13 in Munich of complications from diabetes. He was 85.
A TV icon in Germany, Tappert’s “Derrick” came to epitomize Germany’s beloved police detectives who tend to use their brains instead of their guns to nab criminals — a tradition still very much alive in most of the country’s leading crime dramas.
For German pubcaster ZDF, the series not only became its biggest ever international hit, but also the hottest selling German TV export ever, seen in 108 countries worldwide, including Japan, Italy, South America, China and Iran, and translated into 12 languages.
“Derrick,” often described as the German “Columbo,” ran from 1974 to 1998, when Tappert turned in his badge at the age of 75. ZDF aired a total of 281 episodes of the series. Among the show’s biggest fans was the late Pope John Paul II, who even greeted Tappert at a papal audience in the Vatican in 1999.
“Horst Tappert fascinated people. His portrayal of Inspector Derrick became an icon of German TV crime dramas, at home and abroad,” said ZDF Director-General Markus Schaechter. “No other ZDF series has achieved such a worldwide cult status.”
Lacking the flashy style or quirky humor of Hollywood counterparts, Tappert’s Derrick may have been bland, but that’s what endeared him to millions.
Among the many awards Tappert won over the years was the government’s highest civilian honor, the Federal Cross of Merit in 1988, as well as the Bul le merite, presented by Germany’s Association of Criminal Investigation Department Officers, which praised the actor for elevating the profile of police detectives and bringing great esteem to the profession.
Tappert, who was born in Elberfeld (now part of Wuppertal) in western Germany, landed the role of Derrick in 1973 after years of stage and film work. One of his first roles was in 1958’s “The Trapp Family in America,” Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s sequel to his 1956 feature “The Trapp Family,” a story later re-told in Robert Wise’s “The Sound of Music.”
— Ed Meza