- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Rod Steiger, who played Marlon Brando's mob-connected brother in "On the Waterfront" and won the 1967 Oscar for best actor for his role as the unrelenting Southern police chief in "In the Heat of the Night," died Tuesday. He was 77.

Mr. Steiger died at a Los Angeles-area hospital of pneumonia and kidney failure, said his publicist, Lori De Waal.

A devoted practitioner of method acting, Mr. Steiger prided himself on undertaking challenging roles, especially real-life persons.

In movies and television, he convincingly portrayed such figures as Benito Mussolini, Rasputin, Pope John XXIII, Rudolf Hess, Pontius Pilate, Napoleon, W.C. Fields and Al Capone.

He admitted that he had made a big mistake in declining the lead in "Patton," believing the film would glorify war and killing. George C. Scott took the role and won an Academy Award, which he refused.

Mr. Steiger had another brush with the Oscar in his early movie career. He was the leading contender for "Marty" in the role he had created on television. However, the producer, Burt Lancaster, wanted the loveless butcher to be a gentle character, and Mr. Steiger didn't qualify. Ernest Borgnine won the Oscar in the role.

Mr. Steiger played his most famous scene with Mr. Brando in 1954 in "On the Waterfront."

Rodney Stephen Steiger was born April 14, 1925, in Westhampton, N.Y., the only child of a struggling song-and-dance team that parted soon after his birth. Lying about his age, he enlisted in the Navy at 16 and served in the South Pacific.

Back in New Jersey after the war, Mr. Steiger studied drama at the New School for Social Research on the G.I. Bill then moved to the Actors Studio, joining a class that included Mr. Brando, Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden.

Like others of his generation, Mr. Steiger got his seasoning in live television; between 1947 and 1953, he appeared in more than 250 dramas.

He was cast as the villainous Jud in the big-budget film "Oklahoma."

The director, Fred Zinnemann, expected to dub Mr. Steiger's songs with a professional singer and use an experienced dancer to portray Jud in the ballet sequence. However, stressing previous voice training, Mr. Steiger convinced the director that he could measure up to star Gordon MacRae in their duet, "Poor Jud Is Dead." He undertook three days of grueling ballet lessons and managed a credible performance in the Agnes De Mille dance.

Mr. Steiger established himself as a character actor who could bring power to his often villainous roles. His career crested in 1965 with "The Pawnbroker," in which he played a Jew living a secluded life in Harlem, haunted by memories of his life in a Nazi prison camp. His performance brought him a second Academy Award nomination, and it remained the film of which he was most proud.

Two years later, he was nominated as the redneck sheriff in "In the Heat of the Night."

A prolific actor, Mr. Steiger often made three or four films a year. Among the notable ones: "Al Capone," "Seven Thieves," "Doctor Zhivago," "No Way to Treat a Lady," "Waterloo," "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," "W.C. Fields and Me," "The Amityville Horror," "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" and "Shiloh."

He was married and divorced four times: to Sally Gracie, actress Claire Bloom (with whom he appeared in "Rashomon" on Broadway), Sherry Nelson and Paula Ellis. He and Miss Bloom had a daughter, Anna, who is an opera singer. A son, Michael Winston (named for the actor's heroes, Michelangelo and Winston Churchill) was born to him and Miss Ellis in 1993.

He married Joan Benedict In 2000.


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