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Gregory Peck: 1916 - 2003 - A tribute

Story by: Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD legend, Gregory Peck, has died, at the age of 87.

The star of more than 60 films, including Roman Holiday, Moby Dick and Cape Fear, died peacefully overnight (on Thursday, June 12) at his Los Angeles home.

According to his publicist, Monroe Friedman, his French-born wife, Veronique, was by his side.

In a long and distinguished career, Peck was consistently one of the most popular leading actors of the 20th Century, being nominated for five Oscars.

He won just once, however, for his role as a lawyer defending a black man against a false rape charge, in To Kill A Mocking Bird - a role which recently also saw him named as the Greatest Hero of all-time by members of the American Film Institute (click here).

Born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5, 1916, in La Jolla, California, Peck went on to become an English literature graduate at the University of California, Berkeley, he started acting when the director of the campus theatre spotted him because he was tall and cast him in Moby Dick.

He later went on to star as Captain Ahab in a 1956 screen version and, coincidentally, his last role was in a 1998 TV adaptation of the Herman Melville classic.

However, his film debut came in 1944, in Days of Glory, a role which was followed by the first of his Academy Award nominations, for his portrayal of a priest in Keys of the Kingdom (based on the AJ Cronin novel).

Despite carving a niche for himself as a hero, Peck was not afraid to diversify, appearing as a soldier, a gun fighter, a Biblical figure and romantic lead in many of his films.

Two of his most controversial roles, however, came as a renegade son in the Western, Duel in the Sun, and the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, in The Boys from Brazil.

Three years ago at Cannes he infamously declared that the age of movie glamour was over.

He served as president of the Academy Awards body and was active in the Motion Picture and Television Fund, American Cancer Society, National Endowment for the Arts and other causes.

Needless to say, the tributes have been pouring in as Hollywood comes to terms with the loss of one of its greatest stars.

Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said the movie industry has 'lost one of its most honoured actors and finest citizens'.

While Charlton Heston, who co-starred with him in 1958's Big Country, said: "Gregory Peck was one of those few great actors of generosity, humour, toughness and spirit," before adding that the actor 'faced life's challenges with great vigour and courage'.

One of the most heartfelt tributes, however, came from French President, Jacques Chirac, who had invited the actor and his wife to be his guests at the opening of the 1998 World Cup in Paris.

Mr Chirac said: "Gregory Peck was not only an American film giant whom we admired, he was a man of exceptional culture, a man with a heart who was attentive to others and deeply concerned about world events."

He leaves his wife, four children and several grandchildren.

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