UPDATE: The actor who grew up poor in the Bronx, arrived in Hollywood in 1948 as unknown Bernie Schwartz, and became a legendary film and television star, passed away from cardiac arrest Wednesday evening in his Las Vegas area home, according to the coronor’s statement. He was 85. Many will forever remember Tony Curtis for his comedic work in 1959’s Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, or his dramatic work in 1958’s The Defiant Ones, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination opposite Sidney Poitier. But I will always admire his nuanced performance as press agent Sidney Falco in 1957’s Sweet Smell Of Success opposite Burt Lancaster. And his very moving portrayal of Iwo Jima’s Ira Hayes in 1961’s The Outsider. But he also shocked with his memorably menacing performance in the title role of 1968’s The Boston Strangler.
Curtis was that rare actor who could play with or against type, who could swing from light comedy to serious drama, and yet who remained a greatly undervalued thesp for most of his long career. Maybe if he hadn’t been so good-looking and become a teen idol in Hollywood’s Dream Factory days, he would have been taken more seriously as an actor sooner. (Who can ever forget Curtis hilariously playing a slave in 1960’s Spartacus with his heavy Bronx accent? When it was restored in the 1990s and audio had been lost, he redubbed the lines…) But Curtis also loved his stardom: he was married 6 times, most famously to Janet Leigh. (Actress Jamie Lee Curtis is their daughter.) Strangely, my generation knew him best as the epitome of a celebrity “Stony Curtis” on The Flintstones. Even in later years when movies had given him up, he found work on television and then began selling his art. He also remained a true gentleman every time I ran into him around Los Angeles. He even was cautious not to hurt anyone in his recent but unrevealing memoir American Prince. This is a very sad day for Hollywood.