More than a contender: Brando the rebel, his method, his life of joy and tragedy

The circumstances of Marlon Brando's final act contained a suitably mysterious twist for such an enigmatic career.

The circumstances of Marlon Brando's final act contained a suitably mysterious twist for such an enigmatic career.

His lawyer said yesterday that the cause of his death at a Los Angeles hospital was being withheld. David Seeley noted that Brando, a two-time winner of the Academy Award (for On the Waterfront and The Godfather) and who influenced some of the best actors of the generation that followed him, was "a very private man".

While that may have been true, Brando will be remembered not only for his revolutionary method-acting in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and The Godfather, in which he created the unforgettable character of Don Vito Corleone, but also for his unpredictable behaviour and a private life that contained family tragedy as well as joy. He married three times and was the father of 11 children.

"Marlon would hate the idea of people chiming in to give their comments about his death. All I'll say is that it makes me sad he's gone," said Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather.

He created a naturalism that was sometimes derided for its mumbling, grungy attitudes. But audiences were electrified.

Brando is credited with having influenced some of the best actors of the generation that emerged in the 1970s, among them Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson.

"He influenced more young actors of my generation than any actor," his longtime friend and Godfather co-star James Caan said yesterday.

"Anyone who denies this never understood what it was all about."

Some critics yesterday went as far as to say that in real life he was the embodiment of the characters he played in those three most famous films ­ the brutish Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar, the confused Terry Malloy in Waterfront and the wily Corleone, always thinking not just of the present but of his legacy.

From the point of view of the studios he worked for, Brando's image was not always an asset. Often, instead of focusing on his films, critics would write more about Brando's weight problem, his arguments with directors, his many romances and his tireless support for Native Americans. At other times they would write about Brando's decision to seek refuge on a Tahitian island.

His most famous act of real-life rebellion was his refusal in 1973 to accept the best actor Oscar for The Godfather.

Instead, he sent a woman who called herself Sasheen Littlefeather to read a diatribe about Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans. It was roundly booed.

But the act of rebellion for which he will be forever remembered will be his line from The Wild One, in which Brando, playing a motorcycle gang leader, is asked what he's rebelling against.

"Whattaya got?" came his now legendary reply.

Suitably enough, Brando was from the American heartland, born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924. He was a distant, conservative man of French, English and Irish stock, and the family's original name was Brandeau.

He grew up a pudgy, mischievous boy who was called Bud to distinguish him from his father. His sister Jocelyn was charged with getting Bud to kindergarten, a difficult task. She solved it by leading him on a leash.

Perhaps as a result, Brando grew up with an independent streak, always looking not to conform.

At 19, he moved to New York and studied acting with Stella Adler. After a week, Adler declared: "Within a year, Marlon Brando will be the best young actor in the American theatre."

It took a bit longer. He appeared in such plays as I Remember Mama, A Flag is Born and Truckline Cafe before the Tennessee Williams play that made him famous, A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1947.

The media made much of his motorcycle, leather jackets and T-shirts, his bongo drum playing. The image of Stanley seemed to have fallen on Brando, and the first signs of discomfort emerged. He once told an interviewer: "I detest the character."

When his private life was marred by ill-fortune in later years, Brando strove to remain his own person, never a fully signed-up comfortable member of the elite club that is Hollywood. "Hollywood is ruled by fear and love of money," he once told a reporter. "But it can't rule me because I'm not afraid of anything and I don't love money."

And there was plenty of tragedy. In May 1990, Brando's first son, Christian, shot and killed Dag Drollet, 26, the Tahitian lover of Christian's half-sister Cheyenne, at the family's hilltop home above Beverly Hills. Christian, 31, claimed the shooting was accidental.

After a heavily publicised trial, Christian was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years. Before the sentencing, Brando delivered an hour of rambling testimony in which he said he and his ex-wife had failed Christian.

Afterwards, Drollet's father said he thought Marlon Brando was acting and his son was "getting away with murder".

The tragedy was compounded in 1995, when Cheyenne, said to still be depressed over Drollet's death, committed suicide. She was 25.

Still, the undying spotlight never made him conform. "I am myself," he once declared, "and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it."

Recent reports suggested that Brando had slumped into an impoverished life and was reliant on food parcels dropped off by his neighbour Jack Nicholson. The one-bedroom bungalow, called Frangipan, at 12900 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, was said to have slipped into a shabby state of disrepair.

A new book, Brando in Twilight, written by Patricia Ruiz, reveals that the reclusive star came under financial constraint due to huge amounts he spent while defending Christian. According to Ruiz, Brando was surviving with the support of a state pension, and occasional voice-over work.

His former maid and lover Cristina Ruiz (who is no relation of the author) was also threatening to reopen a $100m "palimony" suit, claiming that Brando had broken agreements to pay $10,000 a month support for three children, including Timothy, their autistic 10-year-old.

Until the last two years, Brando could be spotted raiding ice-cream freezers at a supermarket near his Los Angeles home, having slipped away from nurses who chained his refrigerator door to prevent binge eating. However, since he was struck by pneumonia in 2002 he had regularly been in a wheelchair breathing through an oxygen mask.


"An actor's a guy, who if you ain't talking about him, he ain't listening."

"The only thing an actor owes his public is not to bore them."

"The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis.''


"If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don't know what it is." - Elia Kazan, the director of On the Waterfront

"An angel as a man, a monster as an actor." - Bernardo Bertolucci, the director of Last Tango in Paris

"I will miss him beyond belief." - Elizabeth Taylor

"He was a great actor. We all loved him and I'll really miss him." - Robert De Niro

"He was like a godfather to many young actors worldwide but particularly in this country.'' - Robert Duvall

"He had some real tragedies in his life and perhaps he stopped looking after himself for that reason." - Sophia Loren

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

    Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit