June 3, 2008 / 11:12 PM / 10 years ago

Mel Ferrer, once wed to Audrey Hepburn, dead at 90

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor-filmmaker Mel Ferrer, the onetime husband of screen icon Audrey Hepburn who co-starred with her in “War and Peace” and directed her in “Green Mansions,” has died at age 90, a family spokesman said on Tuesday.

Ferrer died in his sleep surrounded by relatives and close friends at his home on his family’s ranch in Carpenteria, California, near Santa Barbara, the spokesman, Mike Mena said.

The lanky, gaunt Ferrer, first appeared on Broadway as a chorus dancer in 1938 and made his big-screen acting debut in the 1949 racial drama “Lost Boundaries,” playing a fair-skinned black doctor passing as white.

But he is best remembered for his role as the lame puppeteer in the 1953 musical “Lili,” with Leslie Caron, the same year Hepburn made her big-screen breakthrough in “Roman Holiday,” which earned her a best actress Oscar.

Ferrer and Hepburn married in 1954 and appeared together in the 1956 movie adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel “War and Peace” -- she as Natasha Rostov and he as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.

As a filmmaker, Ferrer directed Claudette Colbert in the 1950 mystery “The Secret Fury” and Hepburn in the 1959 romantic adventure “Green Mansions,” set in the jungles of Venezuela.

But the couple enjoyed a more successful collaboration in the 1967 thriller “Wait Until Dark,” which he produced starring Hepburn as a blind woman pursued by killers out to silence her as a potential witness.

Their marriage -- the first of five for Ferrer (he was married twice to Frances Gunby Pilchard) -- ended the following year. Their only child, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, 47, is a filmmaker who directed the 2001 documentary “Racehoss.” Hepburn died of cancer in 1993.

Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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