German actress Rosel Zech, best known to American cineastes for playing the faded, drug-addicted actress of the title in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1982 film “Veronika Voss,” died of bone cancer on Wednesday, Aug. 31, in Berlin. She was 69.
Zech was a stage actress making her first film appearance, in 1973’s “Tenderness of the Wilderness,” when she met Fassbinder, the movie’s producer. She had a small role in his 1981 film “Lola,” which led to the part of Veronika Voss, an actress in postwar Germany once famous for the movies she made under the Nazis. (The film was based on the life of Third Reich starlet-turned-recluse Sybille Schmitz, who ultimately committed suicide, but Veronika Voss also reminds the viewer of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond.)
The critics praised Zech’s performance in the film, but she became frustrated over time because audiences continued to identify her with the Voss character — despite the actress’s later work in almost a dozen other films and her heavy exposure on German television.
Born in Berlin, Roselie Helga Lina Zech studied acting at the Max Reinhardt school after high school. She started performing onstage in West Germany and Switzerland in the early 1960s. The director Peter Zadek cast her in a series of plays as well as in telepic “The Pot” (1971).
Zech made her single foray into English-language film in German director Percy Adlon’s “Salmonberries” (1991). Appearing opposite K.D. Lang, Zech played a German librarian living in Alaska.
The actress had a small role in lesbian-themed WWII drama “Aimee and Jaguar” (1999), which had some play in the U.S.
Zech appeared fregquently on German TV, recurring on the popular show “Um Himmels Willen” (For Heaven’s Sake) from 2002 until illness made it impossible for her to continue this year.
Zech is survived by her mother.