Film legend Marlon Brando dies

Lung failure claims 'greatest actor of his time'

Published: Saturday, July 3 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

A rose rests on Marlon Brando's star in Hollywood on Friday.

Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press

Movie giant Marlon Brando, widely regarded as the greatest actor of his time and a Hollywood legend since the 1950s, died at age 80, it was announced Friday.

Brando died at 6:30 p.m. PDT Thursday at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, Calif., of lung failure, according to his doctors. Hospital spokeswoman Roxanne Moster said no further information was available from the hospital.

Funeral services will be private.

Brando single-handedly changed the course of acting in the second half of the 20th century with a raw sexuality, rebelliousness and realism that spawned generations of imitators. The eccentric, turbulent actor burst upon the Broadway stage with an unseen-before brashness, moved on to film and never lost his hold on the public.

His acting style influenced countless followers, including actors such as James Dean, Paul Newman, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

"He gave us our freedom," said actor Jack Nicholson, who co-starred with him in "The Missouri Breaks."

Recent reports and a new biography had the iconic actor living off his Screen Actors Guild Pension in a one-room house and facing $20 million in debt. According to a July 1 New York Daily News story, Patricia Ruiz's biography, "Brando in Twilight," the actor suffered enormous legal bills because of his son Christian's manslaughter trial in 1990. His finances were further sapped by support payment to his former maid, Christina Ruiz, with whom he had three sons.

Christian was accused of murdering his sister Cheyenne's boyfriend in 1990. The actor tearfully testified on his son's behalf. Christian Brando was sentenced to 10 years in March 1991 and released in January 1996. Cheyenne Brando committed suicide in 1995.

The actor married three times, all of which ended in divorce — to Movita, Anna Kashfi and Tarita. He is survived by five other children: Miko, Rebecca, Simon Tehotu, Ninna Priscilla and Stefano (a k a Stephen Blackehart). Brando also had one adopted child, Petra Barrett Brando, whose biological father is author James Clavell.

At his start, Brando epitomized the relatively new, groundbreaking Method style of acting, which relied on a total immersion into the text to the point of "becoming" the character. (Older actors decried his work as "mumbling.") Add to Brando's unquestioned acting ability his powerful, indifferent personality and he became an indelible enigma throughout his life.

Despite the ups and downs of his career, Brando twice won the Academy Award for best actor and was nominated nine times. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Brando created memorable characters with seeming effortlessness: Stanley Kowalski was the creation of playwright Tennessee Williams, but Brando on Broadway and then on film (1951) breathed animal life into the brutish husband of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

"Even today I meet people who think of me automatically as a tough, insensitive, coarse guy named Stanley Kowalski," Brando wrote in his autobiography. "They can't help it, but it is troubling."

Power and pathos poured out of Brando's Terry Malloy, the has-been boxer and stevedore from Elia Kazan's 1954 film, "On the Waterfront." The actor won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of the mob informer with a conscience. Terry's taxicab scene with his brother Charlie (played by Rod Steiger) — which the two actors reportedly improvised — was climaxed by Brando's soulful lines, "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contendah. I coulda been somebody." That moving scene remains one of the great film moments of all time.

Almost 20 years later, in 1972's "The Godfather," Brando defined the archetypal Mafia boss with his jowly, raspy patriarch, Don Vito Corleone. As with his other performances, this mumbling tour de force was widely lampooned, even though the role demonstrated Brando's skill in duality, imbuing a seemingly benevolent figure with coldhearted menace.

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