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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sandra Bullock won the best actress Oscar, and her first Academy Award, on Sunday for her role as a suburban mom who takes in a homeless black teen and guides him to a football career in the "The Blind Side."
Bullock's Oscar victory marks the high point in a career that has spanned more than 20 years, during which she became an American sweetheart blessed with a natural comic touch that propelled commercially successful films beginning with "Speed" through to last year's box office hit, "The Proposal."
"Did I really earn this or did I just wear you down?" Bullock, 45, exclaimed as she took the stage to accept her Oscar, before saluting each of her four contenders.
The Washington, D.C.-area native became the queen of romantic comedies with her girl-next-door appeal before a deliberate shift in her career with a small role in the 2005 racial drama "Crash," which she credits as the turning point when she began to take her film career more seriously.
She was an early longshot for an Oscar for "The Blind Side," in which she plays a wealthy, strong-willed Christian woman who takes a black high school player into her family.
But her performance as the blond Memphis mother brought her a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award that greatly increased her Oscar chances and won over fans with her heartfelt confessions that she had not thought of herself as a good actress.
The Oscar she won for "Blind Side" was not the only first for Bullock, as the movie also became the first film with only a female lead ever to surpass $200 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales.
Bullock's role in the sports drama is based on a real Tennessee woman, yet the Arlington, Virginia-born actress initially balked at portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy. She only changed her mind after meeting the woman who would eventually help bring her the movie industry's highest honor.
It was a long road to critical acclaim for Bullock, the daughter of a German opera singer and voice coach. She spent some of her early childhood in Germany.
She took some time away from acting a few years ago after the success of "Miss Congeniality," but during that break she met motorcycle maker Jesse James, whom she married in 2005, and started saying "no" to mediocre roles.
Then came "Crash," the drama about bigotry and race in Los Angeles that won the best picture Oscar in 2006 and showed off Bullock's serious side.
Last year was mostly a critical and commercial success for Bullock, although "All About Steve" earned her a Razzie win for the worst actress of 2009.
Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler