Tony Curtis, the star of such films as “Sweet Smell of Success,” ”The Defiant Ones” and “Some Like It Hot,” died at age 85 Wednesday evening of cardiac arrest at his home in the Las Vegas-area city of Henderson, the Associated Press reports.
Curtis started his acting career in the 1950s with trivial movies that traded on his good looks and personality, but he began to take on meatier roles, starting in 1957 with the harrowing show business tale “Sweet Smell of Success.” In 1958, he earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor for “The Defiant Ones,” in which he played a white racist who escaped from prison handcuffed to a black man, Sidney Poitier.
In 1959, he and Jack Lemmon donned women’s clothing and starred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.”
In 2000, an American Film Institute survey of the funniest films in history ranked “Some Like It Hot” at No. 1. Curtis — famously imitating Cary Grant’s accent — and Jack Lemmon play jazz musicians who dress up as women to escape retribution after witnessing a mob hit.
In 2002, Curtis toured in “Some Like It Hot” — a revised and retitled version of the 1972 Broadway musical “Sugar,” which was based on the film. In the touring show, the actor took on the role of Osgood Fielding III, the part played in the movie by Joe E. Brown.
Other notable films in his career: Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus,” ”Captain Newman, M.D.,” ”The Vikings,” ”Kings Go Forth,” and ”Operation Petticoat.” He did a voice acting gig as his prehistoric lookalike, Stony Curtis, in an episode of “The Flintstones.”
His first wife was actress Janet Leigh of “Psycho” fame; actress Jamie Lee Curtis is their daughter.
“My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages,” Jamie Lee Curtis said in a statement Thursday. “He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world.”
In the late 1960s, as his leading man roles dwindled, Curtis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, but he staged a comeback in film and television as a character actor. But he did earn an Emmy nomination during this time period for his portrayal of David O. Selznick in the TV movie “The Scarlett O’Hara War,” in 1980.
He recovered from his addictions in the early ’80s after a 30-day treatment at the Betty Ford Center in
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
After his character roles began to diminished, he again reinventing himself as a writer and painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000, according to the AP.
He and Jamie Lee Curtis, who also found success as an actor, were estranged for a long period, then reconciled. “I understand him better now,” she said, “perhaps not as a father but as a man.”
Curtis had five other children: Daughters Kelly, also with Leigh, and Allegra, with second wife Christine Kaufmann, also became actresses. His other wives were Leslie Allen, Lisa Deutsch and Jill VandenBerg, whom he married in 1998.
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, was a tailor but wanted to be an actor.
After serving in the Pacific during World War II and being wounded at Guam, he returned to New York and studied acting under the G.I. Bill.
Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans.