John Banner was a popular Austrian-American actor who is best remembered for his role as Sergeant Schultz in the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. He played the lovable and bumbling German prison guard who often turned a blind eye to the antics of the Allied prisoners. His catchphrase, “I know nothing, nothing!” became iconic and endeared him to millions of fans. But how did John Banner die, and what was his cause of death? Here is a brief overview of his life and death.
Early Life and Career
John Banner was born on January 28, 1910, in Stanislau, Austria-Hungary (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine). He was born to Jewish parents and had three siblings. He studied law at the University of Vienna, but decided to pursue a career in acting instead. He joined a theater troupe and toured across Europe. In 1938, he was performing in Switzerland when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to Nazi Germany. Banner, who was Jewish, had to flee from his homeland to avoid persecution. He emigrated to the United States, where he learned English and became a citizen.
Banner enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as a supply sergeant until 1945. He also posed for a recruiting poster during the war. According to his co-star Robert Clary, who was a Holocaust survivor himself, “John lost a lot of his family” to the Nazis. All of his relatives who remained in Vienna perished in concentration camps.
Banner started his acting career in Hollywood by playing mostly Nazi villains in various films. He appeared in more than 40 movies, such as Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas (1943), and The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951). He also made numerous appearances on television shows, such as The Lone Ranger, Adventures of Superman, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, and The Partridge Family.
Hogan’s Heroes and Fame
Banner’s breakthrough role came in 1965 when he was cast as Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes. The show was a comedy set in a fictional German POW camp during World War II. It followed the exploits of Colonel Robert Hogan (played by Bob Crane) and his fellow Allied prisoners who secretly conducted espionage and sabotage missions against the Nazis. Banner’s character was the inept and good-natured guard who often ignored or overlooked their activities. He frequently uttered his famous line, “I know nothing! I see nothing! I hear nothing!” whenever he encountered evidence of their schemes.
Banner enjoyed playing Schultz and said that he saw him as “the representative of some kind of goodness in every generation.” He also became good friends with his co-stars, especially Werner Klemperer, who played Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the camp’s incompetent commander. Klemperer was also a Jewish refugee who had escaped from Nazi Germany. The two actors often joked with each other on set and off camera.
Hogan’s Heroes ran for six seasons from 1965 to 1971 and was a hit with audiences and critics alike. It won two Emmy Awards and was nominated for 12 more. It also spawned a spin-off movie, The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz (1968), which starred Banner, Klemperer, and Crane.
Death and Legacy
Banner continued to act after Hogan’s Heroes ended. He appeared in several TV shows and movies, such as The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Maltese Bippy (1969), Togetherness (1970), and His Name Was Madron (1970). He also did voice work for animated shows, such as The Brady Kids and The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.
In January 1973, Banner visited Vienna to celebrate his 63rd birthday with some friends. However, he suffered from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by a burst aortic aneurysm and died on January 28, 1973 – the same day he was born. He was buried at Friedhof Mauer cemetery in Vienna.
Banner’s death shocked and saddened his fans and colleagues. His Hogan’s Heroes co-star Richard Dawson said that he was “one of the kindest men I ever met.” Bob Crane called him “a very dear man” who “was loved by everyone.” Werner Klemperer said that he missed him “terribly” and that he was “a wonderful actor and a wonderful friend.”
John Banner’s legacy lives on through his memorable performances and his iconic role as Sergeant Schultz. He is widely regarded as one of the best comedic actors of his generation and one of the most beloved TV characters of all time. His catchphrase, “I know nothing!” has become part of popular culture and is often quoted or parodied by fans and celebrities alike.
According to Wikipedia, John Banner’s cause of death was a tragic and unexpected event that took away a talented and kind-hearted actor. He will always be remembered for his humor, his warmth, and his humanity.