- Associated Press - Thursday, September 30, 2010

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tony Curtis molded himself from a 1950s movie heartthrob to a respected actor, showing a determined streak that served him well with such films as “Sweet Smell of Success,” ”The Defiant Ones” and “Some Like It Hot.” He was 85.

The Oscar-nominated actor died about 9:25 p.m. PDT Wednesday at his Henderson, Nev., home of a cardiac arrest, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Thursday.

Mr. Curtis began in acting with frivolous movies that exploited his handsome physique and appealing personality but then steadily moved to more substantial roles, starting in 1957 in the harrowing show business tale “Sweet Smell of Success.”

In 1958, “The Defiant Ones” brought him an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his portrayal of a white racist escaped convict handcuffed to a black escapee portrayed by Sidney Poitier. The following year, he donned women’s clothing and sparred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.”


His first wife was the actress Janet Leigh of “Psycho” fame; actress Jamie Lee Curtis is their daughter.

“My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages,” Miss Curtis said in a statement Thursday. “He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world.”

Mr. Curtis struggled against drug and alcohol abuse as starring roles became fewer, but he then bounced back in film and television as a character actor.

His brash optimism returned, and he allowed his once-shiny black hair to turn silver.

Again he came back after even those opportunies began to wane, reinventing himself as a writer and painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000.

“I’m not ready to settle down like an elderly Jewish gentleman, sitting on a bench and leaning on a cane,” he said at 60. “I’ve got a hell of a lot of living to do.”

“He was a fine actor … I shall miss him,” said British actor Roger Moore, who starred alongside Mr. Curtis in TV’s “The Persuaders.”

“He was great fun to work with, a great sense of humor and wonderful ad-libs,” Mr. Moore told Sky News. “We had the best of times.”

Mr. Curtis perfected his craft in forgettable films such as “Francis,” ”I Was a Shoplifter,” ”No Room for the Groom” and “Son of Ali Baba.”

He first attracted critical notice as Sidney Falco, the press agent seeking favor with a sadistic columnist, played by Burt Lancaster, in the 1957 classic “Sweet Smell of Success.”

In her book “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Pauline Kael wrote that in the film, “Curtis grew up into an actor and gave the best performance of his career.”

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