Obituary and tribute by: Jack Foley
DEATH Wish and Magnificent Seven actor, Charles Bronson, has
died at the age of 81.
The Hollywood tough guy died from pneumonia at the Cedars-Sinai
Medical Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, August 30, and is survived
by six children and two grandchildren.
Born Charles Buchinski on November 3, 1921 - one of 15 children
of a Lithuanian coal miner in Pennsylvania, US - Bronson began
his career working in coal mines, along with other members of
his immigrant family.
He would also take part in the sport of boxing, which helped
to define the distinctive features he said looked 'look like a
rock quarry that someone has dynamited'.
After carrying out his military service in World War Two, he
decided to study acting in California, becoming one of the major
action stars of Hollywood in the 1960s, along with Clint Eastwood
and Steve McQueen in films such as The
Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen.
His big breakthrough came in 1960, when he appeared alongside
Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven, in a role
which rates among the finest of a distinguished career.
His cold-hearted killer, turned surrogate father to a trio of
Mexican village children, has long tugged at my own heart-strings,
and his death scene is one of those 'if only it wasn't like that'
moments reserved for the best type of movies.
He followed this with The Great Escape, in which he was one of
the few to escape, despite suffering a fear of the dark, and The
Then, in 1967, he became a member of The Dirty Dozen, alongside
Lee Marvin, before opting to take his career in his own hands
and heading the way of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef by agreeing
to star in the films of Sergio Leone.
First up, came the likes of Guns for San Sebastian and Villa
Rides, which helped to secure him leading man status, before he
nabbed the role of the harmonica playing gunslinger in Leone's
epic Once Upon a Time in the West, which catapulted him into the
realms of superstardom.
By 1971, he was awarded the accolade of the world's most popular
actor, despite a limited range and unemotive style.
Upon his return to America, he won the role of vigilante Paul
Kersey in the Death Wish series, directed by Michael Winner, and
the rest, as they say, is history.
Although the films were criticised for their violence, Bronson
regularly defended them and there is no denying the benchmark
the original set in cinema history.
He also appeared in more than a dozen films with his second wife,
Jill Ireland, who died of cancer in 1990.
And although his latter career was spent in straight to video
movies, he had enough in his CV to place him among cinema's greats,
and will be sorely missed by a legion of fans.