General News

Hollywood legend Curtis dead

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Sep 30, 2010 | 5:00am EDT

Jamie Lee Curtis' actor father passed away on Wednesday (29Sep10). No further details were available as WENN went to press.

Born Bernard Schwartz to Jewish immigrants from Hungary, the star endured a tough upbringing in the Bronx borough of New York, which saw him spend a year in an orphanage with his younger brother Julius because his parents were too poor to feed them.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before deciding to pursue his love of acting and enrolling in the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with German director Erwin Piscator.

He moved to Hollywood in 1948 when he was 23 and landed a contract with Universal Pictures. It was then that Schwartz changed his name to Tony Curtis, adopting his first name from the book Anthony Adverse and his last name from Kurtz, from his mother's family.

Curtis made his film debut with an uncredited appearance in 1949's Criss Cross, but it was only in the mid-1950s that he emerged as a breakout star with roles in movies including 1957's Sweet Smell of Success and alongside Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958), a performance which landed him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

He also starred in dramas The Outsider and The Boston Strangler, but he will perhaps be best remembered for his performance in Some Like It Hot (1959) with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon. In 2000, the American Film Institute named the movie classic the greatest American comedy film of all time.

Curtis also embarked on a variety of TV projects and was immortalised as 'Stony Curtis' on popular cartoon The Flintstones in the early 1960s. In the '70s, he co-starred with former James Bond actor Roger Moore in The Persuaders! series, and went on to land roles in U.S. TV shows McCoy and Vega$.

The actor scaled down the number of films he made in the 1980s and embarked on a career as a surrealist painter. His works became such a hit in the art world, he was able to command more than $25,000 (£16,700) a piece and his painting The Red Table went on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007.

Curtis was later awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was presented with the prestigious French honour, the Order of Arts and Letters, in 1995. He was also an Emmy nominated star and collected two Golden Globes, in 1958 and 1961.

His final role as an actor was in 2008 romantic war drama David & Fatima, in which he starred with Oscar winner Martin Landau, although he expressed a desire to return to the screen earlier this year (10).

Outside Hollywood, Curtis was also known for his high-profile personal life - he was married to actress Janet Leigh for 11 years and they had two children together, Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis, who both followed their parents into showbusiness.

He openly admitted to cheating on Leigh during their union and divorced her in 1962 to wed Christine Kaufmann, his then-17-year-old German co-star in Taras Bulba. He fathered two kids with her but his second marriage lasted just four years.

He was married a further three times and had two more children with third wife Leslie Allen, although their son Nicholas died from a heroin overdose in 1994, aged 23.

Renowned womaniser Curtis later revealed he had had a brief fling with Marilyn Monroe in 1949, and detailed their love affair in his autobiography American Prince: A Memoir.

Curtis was dogged by ill health in his later years and came close to death when he was struck down by pneumonia and fell into a coma in December 2006. He regained consciousness several days later but the virus left him weak and he was resigned to using a wheelchair to get around as he could only walk short distances.

He was hospitalised in August last year (09) when he suffered an asthma-like attack and was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition which sent him to seek medical attention again in New York in early 2010.

In July (10), Curtis was admitted to hospital in Las Vegas after another COPD attack after being taken ill at an exhibition of his artwork.

He is survived by his fifth wife Jill Vandenberg Curtis, who he wed in 1998 despite their 42-year age difference, and his five children.

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