- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Gloria Stuart, the 1930s Hollywood leading lady who years later became the oldest Academy Award acting nominee for her role as the spunky survivor in “Titanic,” has died. She was 100.

Stuart died of respiratory failure Sunday night at her Los Angeles home, her daughter, Sylvia Thompson, said Monday. The actress had been diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago and had beaten breast cancer about 20 years ago, Thompson said.

“She did not believe in illness. She paid no attention to it, and it served her well,” Thompson said. “She had a great life. I’m not sad. I’m happy for her.”

In her youth, Stuart was a blond beauty who starred in B pictures as well as some higher-profile ones such as “The Invisible Man,” Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Diggers of 1935” and two Shirley Temple movies, “Poor Little Rich Girl” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” But by the mid-1940s she had retired.

She resumed acting in the 1970s, doing occasional television and film work, including Peter O’Toole’s 1982 comedy “My Favorite Year.” But Stuart’s later career would have remained largely a footnote if James Cameron had not chosen her for his 1997 epic about the doomed luxury liner that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.

Stuart co-starred as Rose Calvert, the 101-year-old survivor played by Kate Winslet as a young woman. Both earned Oscar nominations, Winslet as best actress and Stuart as supporting actress.

“I am so saddened to hear of the loss of this remarkable woman,” Winslet said. “I feel blessed to have met her, known her and to have acted alongside her. Anyone who spent time in her presence will know what an extraordinary shining light she truly was. She will be deeply missed.”

Cameron wanted an actress who was “still viable, not alcoholic, rheumatic or falling down,” Stuart once said. Then in her mid-80s, Stuart endured hours in the makeup chair so she could look 15 years older. She also traveled to the Atlantic location where the wreck of the real Titanic was photographed.

“The sparkle in her eye was as bright at her hundredth birthday party as it was when I first met her in 1996, and, I’m sure, as it was when she was a silver screen star in the early 30’s or a young girl running through the orange orchards of Santa Monica in 1920,” Cameron said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“Titanic” took in $1.8 billion worldwide to become the biggest modern blockbuster, a position it held until Cameron’s “Avatar” came along last year and passed it on the box-office chart.

It was the first time in Oscar history that two performers were nominated for playing the same character in the same film, and it made the 87-year-old Stuart the oldest acting nominee in history.

“Anchors aweigh!” Stuart said when nominations were announced in February 1998.

The film’s release was preceded by delays and speculation that it could turn into a colossal flop. Of the film’s doubters, Stuart said: “They were dissing it all around. That happens in Hollywood.”

Stuart was thought by many to be the sentimental favorite for the supporting-actress prize, but the award went to Kim Basinger for “L.A. Confidential.”

Leonardo DiCaprio, who appeared in “Titanic,” said Stuart “was a force both on and off screen.”

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