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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tony Curtis molded himself from a 1950s movie heartthrob to a respected actor, showing a determined streak that served him well with such films as "Sweet Smell of Success," ''The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot."
The Oscar-nominated actor died about 9:25 p.m. PDT Wednesday at his Henderson, Nev., home of a cardiac arrest, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Thursday.
Curtis began in acting with frivolous movies that exploited his handsome physique and appealing personality but then steadily moved to more substantial roles, starting in 1957 in the harrowing show business tale "Sweet Smell of Success."
In 1958, "The Defiant Ones" brought him an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his portrayal of a white racist escaped convict handcuffed to a black escapee, Sidney Poitier. The following year, he donned women's clothing and sparred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot."
His first wife was actress Janet Leigh of "Psycho" fame; actress Jamie Lee Curtis is their daughter.
Curtis struggled against drug and alcohol abuse as starring roles became fewer, but then bounced back in film and television as a character actor.
His brash optimism returned, and he allowed his once-shiny black hair to turn silver.
Again he came back after even those opportunies began to wane, reinventing himself as a writer and painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000.
"I'm not ready to settle down like an elderly Jewish gentleman, sitting on a bench and leaning on a cane," he said at 60. "I've got a helluva lot of living to do."
"He was a fine actor ... I shall miss him," said British actor Roger Moore, who starred alongside Curtis in TV's "The Persuaders."
"He was great fun to work with, a great sense of humour and wonderful ad libs," Moore told Sky News. "We had the best of times."
Curtis perfe cted his craft in forgettable films such as "Francis," ''I Was a Shoplifter," ''No Room for the Groom" and "Son of Ali Baba."
He first attracted critical notice as Sidney Falco, the press agent seeking favor with a sadistic columnist, played by Burt Lancaster, in the 1957 classic "Sweet Smell of Success."
In her book "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Pauline Kael wrote that in the film, "Curtis grew up into an actor and gave the best performance of his career."
Other prestigious films followed: Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus," ''Captain Newman, M.D.," ''The Vikings," ''Kings Go Forth," ''Operation Petticoat" and "Some Like It Hot." He also found time to do a voice acting gig as his prehistoric lookalike, Stony Curtis, in an episode of "The Flintstones."
"The Defiant Ones" remained his only Oscar-nominated role.
"I think it has nothing to do with good performances or bad performances," he told The Washington Post in 2002. "After the number of movies I made whe re I thought there should be some acknowledgment, there was nothing from the Academy."
"My happiness and privilege is that my audience around the world is supportive of me, so I don't need the Academy."
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 gangland massacre.
Monroe was their co-star, and he and Lemmon were repeatedly kept waiting as Monroe lingered in her dressing room out of fear and insecurity. Curtis fumed over her unprofessionalism. When someone remarked that it must be thrilling to kiss Monroe in the film's love scenes, the actor snapped, "It's like kissing Hitler." In later years, his opinion of Monroe softened, and in interviews he praised her unique talent.
In 2002, Curtis toured in "Some Like It Hot" - a revised and retitle d version of the 1972 Broadway musical "Sugar," which was based on the film. In the touring show, the actor graduated to the role of Osgood Fielding III, the part played in the movie by Joe E. Brown.
After his star faded in the late 1960s, Curtis shifted to lesser roles. With jobs harder to find, he fell into drug and alcohol addiction.
"From 22 to about 37, I was lucky," Curtis told Interview magazine in the 1980s, "but by the middle '60s, I wasn't getting the kind of parts I wanted, and it kind of soured me. ... But I had to go through the drug inundation before I was able to come to grips with it and realize that it had nothing to do with me, that people weren't picking on me."
He recovered in the early '80s after a 30-day treatment at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.
"Mine was a textbook case," he said in a 1985 interview. "My life had become unmanageable because of booze and dope. Work became a strain and a struggle. Because I didn't want t o face the challenge, I simply made myself unavailable."
One role during that era of struggle did bring him an Emmy nomination: his portrayal of David O. Selznick in the TV movie "The Scarlett O'Hara War," in 1980.
His health remained vigorous, though he did get heart bypass surgery in 1994.
Curtis took a fatherly pride in daughter Jamie's success. They were estranged for a long period, then reconciled. "I understand him better now," she said, "perhaps not as a father but as a man."
He also 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.
He had married Janet Leigh in 1951, when they were both rising young stars; they divorced in 1963.
"Tony and I had a wonderful time together; it was an exciting, glamorous period in Hollywood," Leigh, who died in 2004, once said. "A lot of great things happened, most of all, two beautiful children."
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, had yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent. He settled for tailoring jobs, moving the family repeatedly as he sought work.
"I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids," Curtis recalled in 1959. "I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block."
His sidewalk histrionics helped avoid beatings and led to acting in plays at a settlement house. He also grew to love movies. "My whole culture as a boy was movies," he said. "For 11 cents, you could sit in the front row of a theater for 10 hours, which I did constantly."
After serving in the Pacific during World War II and being wounded at Guam, he returned to New Yor k and studied acting under the G.I. Bill. He appeared in summer stock theater and on the Borscht Circuit in the Catskills. Then an agent lined up an audition with a Universal-International talent scout. In 1948, at 23, he signed a seven-year contract with the studio, starting at $100 a week.
Bernie Schwartz sounded too Jewish for a movie actor, so the studio gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, "Anthony Adverse," and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. After his eighth film, he became Tony Curtis.
The studio helped smooth the rough edges off the ambitious young actor. The last to go was his street-tinged Bronx accent, which had become a Hollywood joke.
Curtis pursued another career as an artist, creating Matisse-like still lifes with astonishing speed. "I'm a recovering alcoholic," he said in 1990 as he concluded a painting in 40 minutes in the garden of the Bel-Air Hotel. "Painting has given me such a great pleasure in li fe, helped me to recover."
He also turned to writing, producing a 1977 novel, "Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow." In 1993, he wrote "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography."
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) - Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the networks' golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called "the most trusted man in America," died Friday. He was 92.
Cronkite's longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease.
Adler said, "I have to go now" before breaking down into what sounded like a sob. She said she had no further comment.
Cronkite was the face of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.
It was Cronkite who read the bulletins coming from Dallas when Kennedy was shot Nov. 22, 1963, interrupting a live CBS-TV broadcast of the soap opera "As the World Turns."
Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied.
"He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator," CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was "mired in stalemate" in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war. He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, "Look at those pictures, wow!" as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon's surface in 1969. In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn's return to space after 36 years.
"It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite," CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. "More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments."
He had been scheduled to speak last January for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., but ill health prevented his appearance.
A former wire service reporter and war correspondent, he valued accuracy, objectivity and understated compassion. He expressed liberal views in more recent writings but said he had always aimed to be fair and professional in his judgments on the air.
Off camera, his stamina and admittedly demanding ways brought him the nickname "Old Ironpants." But to viewers, he was "Uncle Walter," with his jowls and grainy baritone, his warm, direct expression and his trim mustache.
When he summed up the news each evening by stating, "And THAT's the way it is," millions agreed. His reputation survived accusations of bias by Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, and being labeled a "pinko" in the tirades of a fictional icon, Archie Bunker of CBS's "All in the Family."
Two polls pronounced Cronkite the "most trusted man in America": a 1972 "trust index" survey in which he finished No. 1, about 15 points higher than leading politicians, and a 1974 survey in which people chose him as the most trusted television newscaster.
Like fellow Midwesterner Johnny Carson, Cronkite seemed to embody the nation's mainstream. When he broke down as he announced Kennedy's death, removing his glasses and fighting back tears, the times seemed to break down with him.
And when Cronkite took sides, he helped shape the times. After the 1968 Tet offensive, he visited Vietnam and wrote and narrated a "speculative, personal" report advocating negotiations leading to the withdrawal of American troops.
"We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," he said, and concluded, "We are mired in stalemate."
After the broadcast, President Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press
Waylon Jennings Outlaw Legend Hero
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Despite the black cowboy hat and bad-guy image, country star Waylon Jennings was known as a stand-up guy. But when it came to his songs, it was a different story.
“You start messin' with my music, and I get mean,” he told The Associated Press in 1992. “As long as you are honest and upfront with me, I will be the same with you. But I still do things my way.”
Jennings died peacefully Wednesday at his Arizona home after a long battle with diabetes-related health problems, said spokeswoman Schatzie Hageman. He was 64.
“Waylon Jennings was an American archetype, the bad guy with a big heart,” said Kris Kristofferson, who sang with Jennings in the Highwaymen along with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
Jennings' list of hits spans four decades and includes country music standards like “Good-Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” both duets with Nelson.
He made 60 albums and had 16 country singles that reached No. 1. His “Greatest Hits” album in 1979 sold 4 million – a rare accomplishment in country music for that era.
Jennings won two Grammy awards and four Country Music Association awards. Other hits include “I'm a Ramblin' Man,” “Amanda,” “Lucille,” “I've Always Been Crazy” and “Rose in Paradise.”
Singer George Jones called it a “great loss for country music.”
Jennings' deep, sonorous voice was unmistakable. He narrated the popular TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard” and sang its theme song, which was a million seller.
Jennings “had a voice and a way with a song like no one else,” said country star Emmylou Harris, adding “He was also a class act as an artist and a man.”
Jennings had been plagued with health problems in recent years that made it difficult for him to walk. In December, his left foot was amputated.
He traditionally wore a black cowboy hat and ebony attire that accented his black beard and mustache. Often reclusive when not on stage, he played earthy music with a spirited, hard edge.
Some of Jennings' album titles nourished his brash persona: “Lonesome, On'ry and Mean,” “I've Always Been Crazy,” “Nashville Rebel,” “Ladies Love Outlaws” and “Wanted: The Outlaws.”
He often refused to attend music awards shows on the grounds that performers shouldn't compete against each other. He didn't show up at his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year.
“Whenever country music got a little too impressed with itself, Waylon was there to let them know what the music's roots were. He was very uncompromising about that,” said Lenny Kaye, a guitarist with the Patti Smith Group who helped Jennings write his 1996 autobiography.
In 1992, Jennings told the AP: “I've never compromised, and people respect that.”
He made occasional forays into TV movies, including “Stagecoach” and “Oklahoma City Dolls,” plus the Sesame Street movie “Follow That Bird” and the B-movie “Nashville Rebel.”
Born in Littlefield, Texas, Jennings became a radio disc jockey at 14 and formed his own band not long afterward. His hit records began in the mid-1960s and his heyday was the mid-1970s.
In 1959, Jennings' career was nearly cut short by tragedy soon after it began.
He was scheduled to fly on the light plane that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to Richardson, who was ill and wanted to fly rather than travel by bus with those left behind.
When a plane crash killed seven members of singer Reba McEntire's band in 1991, Jennings was one of the first to call her.
“I told her there's one thing you're going to have to deal with. And that's thinking it was your fault,” he told the AP in 1992. “As a young man at that time, I thought it was my fault. I felt guilty and I couldn't get it out of my mind for years.”
For musician Rodney Crowell, that was typical Jennings.
“For all of Waylon's tough stuff, he had such a tender heart. He was such a sweet soul,” Crowell said.
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press