Four years ago, Lancaster was partially paralysed by a stroke, which left him in frail health and - according to some reports - feeling abandoned by his friends in the film business. Alain Delon, who played opposite him in Visconti's The Leopard, said yesterday that his painful incapacity had led to 'not at all the kind of death he wished for . . . he suffered a great deal in the last four years'.
But last night tributes to him were pouring in from around the world from those who remember Lancaster's towering performances in films such as Elmer Gantry, Atlantic City, The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Swimmer and The Sweet Smell of Success.
Lancaster was born in New York and grew up in a tough neighbourhood on Manhattan's Upper East Side before quitting college to set up an acrobatic team. For several years he toured with circuses and appeared in night clubs, but then he became a refrigerator repair man.
According to Hollywood mythology, he was 'discovered' shortly after the Second World War while riding in a lift by a producer who mistook him for an actor and asked him to read for a Broadway part - which he got.
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