APRIL 5, 1916-JUNE 12, 2003

Farewell: We pay tribute to Gregory Peck

When the Academy gave Gregory Peck its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1968, the legend was embarrassed. ”I’m not a do-gooder,” he once said. For anyone else in Hollywood, such self-deprecation might ring of false modesty. Yet there was nothing phony about the cinematic Everyman whose deep, biblical voice conveyed authenticity, and whose 53-feature-film career reverberated with decency and grace. Those traits were most clearly on display in his only Oscar-winning role, Atticus Finch, a Southern lawyer defending a falsely accused black man in To Kill a Mockingbird, who was cited by AFI this year as the greatest movie hero ever. In that film and others, like Gentlemen’s Agreement and Twelve O’Clock High, the five-time Oscar nominee defined heroism in workaday terms, as the moment-by-moment struggle to do the right thing. (He didn’t always wear the figurative white hat — he was a mad Ahab in Moby Dick and portrayed Josef Mengele in The Boys From Brazil — but audiences preferred him as the good guy.) Peck embodied his reel-life values in real life, too. Politically liberal, he was often urged to run for office, championed civil rights and workers’ rights, and chaired the American Cancer Society and served on the board of AFI. In addition to all this activism, he was a humanitarian to the people closest to him. When his friend Ava Gardner died in 1990, he took in her housekeeper — and her dog. (Peck died of natural causes in Los Angeles.)