Image Credit: Pace Gregory/CorbisThe rare Hollywood star whose off-screen character was often more colorful than his on-screen ones, Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85. He passed away at midnight Wednesday night at his home in Nevada. The actor suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was hospitalized in mid-July after he had trouble breathing.
Curtis lived a life that could easily have been made into a movie. Born Bernard Schwartz and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., to Hungarian immigrants, Curtis completed only one year of high school, spent two years in the U.S. Navy, and learned to act on the GI Bill, which led to a contract gig with Universal Studios. Graduating to bigger parts in films like 1952’s Son of Ali Baba and 1953’s Houdini, Curtis made a point of working in several genres.
As a result, his best-known films ranged from historical epics (1960’s Spartacus) to edgy noir dramas (1957’s Sweet Smell of Success) to farces (1959’s Some Like It Hot). But for every classic on his resume, he also appeared in more than his share of flops. He only earned one Oscar nomination in his seven-decade career, for the 1958 crime drama The Defiant Ones.
Curtis’ personal life was filled with great turmoil: He married five times; his first, and most famous, marriage was to actress Janet Leigh, with whom he appeared in Houdini after they had wed. The union lasted 11 years (the two divorced in 1962) and produced two daughters, the actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis (Trading Places). Tony Curtis had a rocky relationship with all of his children, including his eldest son, Nicholas, who died at age 23 of a heroin overdose in 1994. Curtis himself was arrested for marijuana possession in London in 1970, and spent a month at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984. Even into old age, he never lived quietly. “Eighty f—ing years old. I don’t feel any different now than I did when I was 30,” he told Esquire in 2006. “Dying, I just don’t feel like it.”
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