- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP)- Charles Bronson, the Pennsylvania coal miner who drifted into films as a villain and became a hard-faced action star, notably in the popular “Death Wish” vengeance movies, has died at age 81.

Mr. Bronson died Saturday of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife at his bedside, publicist Lori Jonas said. He had been in the hospital for weeks, Miss Jonas said.

At the height of his career, Mr. Bronson was hugely popular in Europe; the French knew him as “le sacre monstre” (the sacred monster), the Italians as “Il Brutto” (the ugly man). In 1971, he was presented a Golden Globe as “the most popular actor in the world.”

Mr. Bronson had to make European films to prove his worth as a star. He left a featured-role career in Hollywood to play leads in films made in France, Italy and Spain. His blunt manner, powerful build and air of danger made him the most popular actor in those countries.

At age 50, he returned to Hollywood a star.

In a 1971 interview, he theorized on why the journey had taken him so long:

“Maybe I’m too masculine. Casting directors cast in their own, or an idealized image. Maybe I don’t look like anybody’s ideal.”

His early life gave no indication of his later fame. He was born Charles Bunchinsky on Nov. 3, 1921, in Ehrenfeld, Pa. He was the 11th of 15 children of a coal miner and his wife, both Lithuanian immigrants.

Charles followed his brothers into the mines at age 16 and might have stayed for the rest of his life except for World War II. Having seen the outside world as a tail gunner on a B29 in the Pacific, he vowed not to return.

He was attracted to acting not, he claimed, because of any artistic urge; he was impressed by the money movie stars could earn. He joined the Philadelphia Play and Players Troupe where studio scouts saw him and cast him as a gob in the 1951 service comedy “You’re in the Navy Now” starring Gary Cooper.

Mr. Bronson’s first starring role came in 1958 with an eight-day exploitation film, “Machine Gun Kelly.” His status grew with impressive performances in “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “The Battle of the Bulge,” “The Sandpiper” and “The Dirty Dozen.”

His most controversial film came in 1974 with “Death Wish” in which he played an affluent, liberal architect whose life is shattered when young thugs kill his wife and rape his daughter. He vows to rid the city of such vermin, and his executions brought cheers from crime-weary audiences.

Mr. Bronson made more “Death Wish” films, and in 1987 he defended them:

“I think they provide satisfaction for people who are victimized by crime and look in vain for authorities to protect them. But I don’t think people try to imitate that kind of thing.”

Mr. Bronson is survived by his wife, Kim, six children and two grandchildren. Funeral services will be private.

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