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Marlon Brando - An obituary

Obituary by: Jack Foley

SCREEN icon, Marlon Brando, who was regarded by many as the greatest actor of all-time, has died in a Los Angeles hospital, at the age of 80.

The two-times Oscar-winning actor appeared in some of the most pivotal roles of cinema history, including On The Waterfront, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

Yet, in later years, his talent became wasted, as he appeared in a succession of forgettable movies that failed to do justice to the man's talent.

Hollywood was in mourning on Saturday (July 3, 2004), as news of the star's death broke.

Former co-stars, directors and producers lined up to pay tribute, with Godfather co-star, Al Pacino, whose career was inspired by Brando, leading the tributes by asking: "I was shocked and deeply saddened at the loss of the greatest acting genius of our time. What will we do without Marlon in this world?"

Brando had been ill for some time, having recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia, and being pictured leaving a hospital in a wheelchair.

Brando's lawyer, David J Seeley, refused to reveal the cause of death, saying that it was being withheld, as the actor 'was a very private man'.

But despite the problems which dogged his latter years, Brando will be most fondly remembered for his early work, in a career which would span 40 films.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Brando was the son of a prosperous businessman and a sensitive, stage-struck mother, who was an amateur actress.

He left home at 19 for New York, where he decided to follow in his mother's footsteps and become an actor.

His coach, Stella Adler, helped him to develop the 'Method-style' for which Brando became known, and quickly launched his career, on stage, in 1944.

In 1947, aged 23, he won the coveted role of Stanley Kowalski, in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which got critics raving.

Despite the accolades, however, he would never return to the stage.

Instead, he pursued a career in movies, and, in 1950, went to Hollywood and made a film version of Streetcar, followed by The Wild One.

The latter film was banned in Britain for several years over fears it would encourage delinquency.

Yet it developed his reputation for playing inarticulate, mumbling rebels and was followed by On the Waterfront - which brought him his first Academy Award.

It also provided him with one of the most memorable lines in cinema history - "I could'a been a contender."

The Fifties marked the golden era of Brando, during which he would demonstrate his range by starring as Mark Antony, in Julius Caesar, Sky Masterson, in Guys and Dolls, and a Nazi officer in The Young Lions.

But, in the Sixties, his career showed signs of faltering.

Mutiny on the Bounty and Charlie Chaplin's A Countess from Hong Kong were among a long list of films which failed to impress the public or critics - when the pressures of his celebrity persona began to take their toll.

Brando confounded them all, however, in 1972, when he made a scintillating comeback with The Godfather.

Brando's role as Mafia leader, Don Vito Corleone, restored his reputation, even though he had been forced to 'suffer the humiliation' of having to audition for the part.

It proved to be another Oscar winner, which he famously refused to accept at the ceremony.

Instead, he made a political statement by sending a young woman in Indian costume to refuse the award, in demonstration of his outrage over the plight of Native Americans.

The Godfather was followed by Bernardo Bertolucci's erotic Last Tango in Paris, which featured the now infamous butter sequence.

And he then went on to turn a relatively minor part, in Coppola's seminal war movie, Apocalypse Now, into one of the great screen creations of all-time.

His disillusioned military genius, Colonel Kurtz, remains one of the most fondly remembered war movie characters among film buffs.

Brando also appeared in the first Superman film, as the superhero's father, and seemed content to agree to small cameos, until, in 1989, he enjoyed a small but important role as a South African lawyer in A Dry White Season.

However, where once his films were the talking points, his personal life - while shrouded in secrecy - began to cause much speculation.

He adopted a reclusive lifestyle and spent much of his free time on a small coral island, Tetiaroa, 25 miles north of Tahiti - but he became a larger-than-life figure, courtesy of his health problems, short-lived marriages, bitter divorces and torrid affairs.

His was a personal life surrounded by tragedy.

In 1990, for instanc,e the Brando family found itself in the spotlight at the murder trial of the actor's son, Christian, who was accused of killing the abusive fiance of his sister, Cheyenne.

Christian would serve five years of a 10-year sentence for manslaughter.

But Brando's daughter, Cheyenne, committed suicide in 1995.

The actor himself had at least 11 children with three ex-wives and various other women.

And he also suffered from a well-documented weight problem.

In one interview, in the Nineties, he told one journalist that his decision to withdraw from the movie scene had been taken because of the stress of being constantly in the public eye.

"I've had so much misery in my life, being famous and wealthy," he lamented.

But he still managed some highlights, with The Score, alongside Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, and Don Juan de Marco, alongside Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp, evidence that the great man had lost none of his mercurial talent.

At the time of his death, he was working with French-Tunisian director, Ridha Behi, on a film about an Arab youth's gradual disenchantment with the American dream.

And he was set to have played himself in Brando and Brando.

But it is the memory of his early acting which will live longest when people talk of Brando.

Aside from his two Oscar wins, the star was also nominated a further six times, for Last Tango in Paris (1973), Sayonara (1957), Julius Caesar (1953), Viva Zapata! (1952) and Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Of the many celebrities to have paid tribute to his career and influence, Robert Duvall, another of his Godfather co-stars, said: "He was like a godfather to many young actors worldwide but particularly in this country.

"He had enormous positive influence on younger performers."

And Bernardo Bertolucci commented: "With tears in my eyes, it occurs to me that in the very act of dying, Marlon has become immortal.

"For lovers of cinema he was perhaps the only true legend who'd ever lived."

Funeral arrangements for the star will be kept private.

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