Marlon Brando dies aged 80

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The Independent US

Marlon Brando, who revolutionized American acting, has died aged 80.

Regarded by many as the greatest actor of his generation, Brando was the original angry young man of cinema.

His electrifying performances in A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront were unlike anything Hollywood had seen before.

Two decades on his Oscar–winning role in The Godfather sealed his status as a screen legend.

But Brando's life was marred by tragedy, and his later years were a tale of sad decline.

He became a recluse, and his rare film appearances were overshadowed by tales of his eccentric behaviour on set.

The one–time sex symbol became grossly overweight, his brooding good looks a distant memory.

Days before his death it emerged that he was existing on social security and a pension from the Screen Actors Guild, with debts of £11 million.

It was a sad end to the life of a Hollywood icon.

Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 3 1924, to a salesman father and amateur actress mother.

The actor remembered his childhood growing up on a farmstead as an unhappy one.

His father, Marlon Sr, was a womaniser and disciplinarian prone to violent rages while his mother, Dodie, whom he adored, was an alcoholic.

"She was beautiful. What a pity she spent most of her time on the floor," the actor once said of her.

Brando was a wayward teen and was expelled from several academic institutions, including military academy.

Aged 19, he moved to New York with his mother, intent on becoming an actor, and enrolled at Elia Kazan's Actors' Studio.

There he studied method acting, the discipline which requires performers to draw on their own experiences and emotions to create a character, and became its most famous exponent.

After a few small parts he landed the lead in a Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, playing Stanley Kowalski.

His performance caused a sensation and set a new benchmark for actors – one critic wrote that Brando displayed "a delicate ferocity unlike any acting I had ever seen".

He made his screen debut as an embittered paraplegic in The Men in 1950, a role for which the 26–year–old was reported to have prepared by lying in bed for a month in a veterans' hospital.

In 1951 he appeared in the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire and became a Hollywood star.

The four films which followed – Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953) and On The Waterfront (1954) – sealed his reputation as one of the most gifted actors America had ever seen.

On The Waterfront earned Brando an Oscar for his role as ex–prizefighter Terry Malloy, and gave him his most memorable line: "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender."

Director Elia Kazan said of Brando: "If there is a better performance by a man in the history of American film, I don't know what it is."

But Brando followed it up with a string of forgettable films.

Sayonara (1957), The Young Lions (1958) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) were the only ones to stand out.

While filming Mutiny on the Bounty, in which he played Fletcher Christian, he fell so in love with the Tahitian location that he bought his own island, Tetiaroa.

He set up home there, thousands of miles from the Hollywood he hated.

Brando had become disillusioned with acting – dismissing it as "a bum's life" – and despised the idea of celebrity.

"If there's anything unsettling to the stomach, it's watching actors on television talk about their personal lives," he said.

His career was revitalised in 1972 with his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, for which he won his second Oscar.

The actor did not turn up to the Academy Awards ceremony, instead sending a "Red Indian" called Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the award in protest at Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans. Miss Littlefeather was later revealed to be an actress called Maria Cruz.

Brando also courted controversy in 1972 in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris.

The film was banned in Britain for its infamous sex scenes between Brando and actress Maria Schneider, and caused a storm around the world.

From that point on Brando retreated even further from the limelight, restricting his career to supporting roles such as the renegade Colonel Walter E Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

"The only reason I'm in Hollywood is that I don't have the moral courage to refuse the money," he admitted, and the money certainly was too good to turn down. He picked up £2 million and a percentage of the profits for a brief 10–minute appearance in Superman in 1978, for which he headed the credits above Superman himself, Christopher Reeve.

Over the last 25 years he appeared in a series of box office flops (Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, The Island of Dr Moreau) but his performances could still generate excitement amongst film critics, such as his 20–minute turn as a lawyer in 1989 apartheid drama A Dry White Season.

His behaviour on set and elsewhere, however, became more eccentric with each passing year.

In 2001 he appeared on stage at a comeback concert for Michael Jackson in New York's Madison Square Garden and was booed by the crowd for making a rambling speech about child abuse and starvation.

The same year he accepted a part on Robert De Niro movie The Score and tales emerged of the corpulent actor walking around the set naked from the waist down.

Now living in a shabby home in Los Angeles, he refused to speak to callers and instead sent them faxes addressed from his dog, Doctor Tim.

Meanwhile Brando's private life became increasingly chaotic.

He married three times and had 11 children – two of whom were to be the source of terrible tragedy.

In 1990, his eldest son Christian shot dead his half-sister Cheyenne's fiance, Dag Drollet.

Christian admitted the killing and served five years in jail - Brando stood by his son and later claimed the hefty legal fees had left him broke.

Heartbroken by her lover's death, former drug addict Cheyenne committed suicide in Tahiti five years later.

Christian was the son of Brando's first wife, British starlet Anna Kashfi, whom he married in 1957 and divorced two years later.

His other two marriages were to Mexican actress Movita Castenada, his co-star in Viva Zapata!, and Polynesian actress Tarita Teriipia, whom he met while filming Mutiny on the Bounty.

His youngest three children were by his housekeeper, Maria Ruiz. They split and she launched a £70 million case against him for child support.

In his heyday, Brando had affairs with a string of women, including Marilyn Monroe and Shelley Winters.

His heart-throb looks had long since disappeared by the time of his death, but his legacy as one of the all-time movie greats will live on.

"The only thing an actor owes his public is not to bore them," he once said, and that was something Brando never did.

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