Oscar-nominated Tony Curtis dies, age 85

Thu Sep 30, 2010 7:33pm EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tony Curtis, whose dark hair and good looks made him a Hollywood star well before he became an accomplished actor in hit movies such as "Some Like It Hot" and "The Sweet Smell of Success," died Wednesday night at his home in Nevada. He was 85.

Curtis, one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and 1960s and one of Hollywood's busiest playboys, died a natural death due to cardiac arrest with his doctor at his bedside in Henderson, Nevada, outside Las Vegas, the Clark County coroner's office said.

The handsome leading man starred in more than 140 films including the classic gladiator drama "Spartacus," and he received an Academy Award nomination for 1958's "The Defiant Ones."

Yet, his career got off to a rocky start. In one of his first major roles, playing an Arabian in "Son of Ali Baba" in 1952, he wrote that he was roundly mocked for proclaiming in a thick New York accent, "Yonduh in the valley of the sun is my fadder's castle."

Still, Universal Pictures' star-making machinery and teen fan magazines managed to make him a heartthrob, and movie-goers loved his dark-haired sex appeal and impish grin.

Within a few years, Curtis had improved his skills enough for Saturday Review magazine to call him "a rare phenomenon, an authentic screen personality who, through hard work, has made himself into an actor of considerable subtlety and some breadth."

Two of his most enduring performances came in "Some Like It Hot" as he teamed with Jack Lemmon -- playing cross-dressers opposite Marilyn Monroe -- and "The Sweet Smell of Success," in which he played a fawning press agent.

His Oscar nomination came for "The Defiant Ones," in which he played a racist prison escapee chained to Sidney Poitier. Other notable films included "Houdini," "Trapeze," "Operation Petticoat," "The Boston Strangler," "The Vikings" and "The Great Imposter."

When the leading movie roles dried up, Curtis struggled with cocaine and alcohol abuse. But he eventually overcame those problems and transformed from leading man to character actor, taking roles on TV. He also turned to painting and art to fill his days.   Continued...