Although Marlon Brando, eccentric and meticulous to the last, left precise taped details for his funeral, including, it is believed, instructions that his friend and protégé Jack Nicholson should lead the mourners, it was not certain last night whether he left enough money to pay for it.
President George Bush hailed the departed star yesterday as one of the 20th century's greatest actors. In his heyday, the man who won two best actor Oscars and whom many regarded as the most important American actor of his age, was paid $5m (£2.7m) for 10 minutes of screen time in a movie. But when he died at the age of 80 in a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday, from lung failure and heart problems, he was by all accounts living in virtual penury. His home was a shabby one-bedroom bungalow in Beverly Hills.
By Brando's own admission, his income in his final years was "limited and sporadic", the sole constants his pensions from the state and the Screen Actors Guild, totalling £4,000 a month. Taxpayers are funding the education of his autistic 10-year-old son.
According to a forthcoming biography, Brando in Twilight by Patricia Ruiz, he owed banks almost £11m. So frightened was he of debt collectors, she writes, that he hid away his Oscar statuette for the 1954 performance in On the Waterfront (he refused to accept the other one, for The Godfather in 1973, as an ill-received protest at Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans).
By the end, too, he was grossly overweight, a victim of the binge eating that plagued him in the second half of his life, his fridge chained shut by his nurses to prevent him wolfing down more food.
But as preparations were under way yesterday for the funeral that his lawyer, David Seeley, said would be "private", America remembered the other, earlier Marlon Brando, whose intense and mesmerisingly powerful roles made him a legend.
Within hours of the announcement of his death from progressive lung failure and longstanding heart problems, tributes poured in from the Hollywood establishment. "I was shocked and deeply saddened at the loss of the greatest acting genius of our time," said Al Pacino, Brando's co-star in The Godfather.
Thereafter however, with the exception of Bernardo Bertolucci's compelling Last Tango in Paris - which Brando infused with autobiography - and Apocalypse Now in 1979, his career fizzled. "He threw his career away," said Robert Tanitch, the author of Brando. "He hated acting. He was rather ashamed of it. He didn't think there was such a thing as a great movie."
Brando's turbulent private life did not help either, distracting him from acting and becoming the main cause of his financial problems. Brando had three wives and 11 acknowledged children. Some said there were others.
The dark years began in 1991 when his eldest son Christian admitted shooting dead the fiancé of his half-sister Cheyenne. Brando is reputed to have spent millions of dollars on lawyers for his son, who was jailed for five years for voluntary manslaughter.
Four years later, Cheyenne, a drug addict, committed suicide, and her mother, Tarita Teriipia, the actor's third wife, did the same. Last year he faced a £55m lawsuit from his former housekeeper and lover, Cristina Ruiz, for the maintenance of their three children. Brando said he had no money. But despite tragedies and failing health, Brando did not change. A week before he died, a visitor described him as "his usual eccentric self, a little crazy", but in good spirits. Years earlier, the actor himself struck a similar note: "I am myself and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it."Reuse content