Oscar winner Gregory Peck dies. The ''To Kill a Mockingbird'' star was 87

By Gary Susman
June 12, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Gregory Peck: Fred Prouser/REUTERS/NewsCom

Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck, the handsome Hollywood leading man who starred in memorable films from ”Roman Holiday” to ”To Kill a Mockingbird” to ”The Omen,” died in his sleep Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, his spokesman told the Associated Press. He was 87, and his wife Veronique, who was at his side, attributed his passing to natural causes, the spokesman said.

Peck’s square jaw and stentorian speech usually landed him roles as heroic or larger-than-life men of action, in movies ranging from ”The Yearling” (the 1946 film in which he played a pioneer dad) to ”Gentleman’s Agreement” (considered a daring indictment of anti-Semitism in 1947), to the World War II drama ”Twelve O’Clock High” (1950), to post-apocalyptic drama ”On the Beach ” (1959), to the original 1962 version of the thriller ”Cape Fear” (he made a cameo in the 1991 remake), to the pre-Apollo 13 NASA chief trying to rescue a team of stranded astronauts in 1969’s ”Marooned.”

His most heroic role, however — at least, according to the American Film Institute poll released just last week — was ”To Kill a Mockingbird”’s Atticus Finch, the attorney who defends a black man wrongly accused of rape in the Jim Crow South, and who also teaches his kids gentle morality lessons as a single dad. The role, which topped the AFI’s list of the 50 greatest movie heroes of all time, won Peck his only Oscar; he was nominated four other times (for 1944’s ”The Keys to the Kingdom,” ”The Yearling,” ”Gentlemen’s Agreement,” and ”Twelve O’Clock High”). He also won an honorary Oscar, the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1968.

Peck acted infrequently in recent years. He was last seen in the 1998 TV version of ”Moby Dick,” in a cameo as the minister whose doom-laden sermon precedes the Pequod’s ill-fated voyage. The role marked a career circle for him; he’d launched his acting career in a Broadway version of the story, and he played a rare villainous role as Captain Ahab in John Huston’s 1956 movie version at the height of his career.