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Charles Bronson (November 3, 1921 – August 30, 2003) was an Americamarker actor best known for his "tough guy" image, who starred in such classic films as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Evil That Men Do and the popular Death Wish series. He was most often cast in the role of a police officer or gunfighter.

Bronson's first film role was as a Polishmarker sailor in You're in the Navy Now in 1951, he also made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s. Bronson was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in a TV episode with the title "Memory in White." In the 1970s he became one of the top ten box-office stars. He made films in many genres including crime, western and others.

Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death. His health deteriorated in later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 1998. Bronson also suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years.


Early life and World War II service

Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinskas (some sources note that he was born as Karolis Bučinskis, Casimir Businskis ) in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvaniamarker in the Pittsburgh Tri-State area.

He was the 11th of 15 children born to a Lithuanianmarker immigrant father of Lipka Tatar ancestry and a Lithuanian mother. Both his parents were immigrants from Lithuaniamarker. His father was from the town of Druskininkaimarker.

When Charles Bronson graduated from high school, supposedly he was the first member of his family to do so. As a young child Charles did not speak English and learned it later as a foreign language. Bronson's father died when Charles was only 10, and he went to work in the coal mines. Initially Charles worked in the office of a coal mine, later in the mine itself. Charles worked there until he entered military service during World War II. He earned $1 per ton of coal mined. His family was so poor that, at one time, he reportedly had to wear his sister's dress to school because he had nothing else to wear.

In 1943, Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aerial gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guammarker. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.

Acting career

Early roles, 1951–1959

Bronson's first film role — an uncredited one — was as a sailor in You're in the Navy Now in 1951. Other early screen appearances were in Pat and Mike, Miss Sadie Thompson and House of Wax (as Vincent Price's henchman Igor). In 1952, Bronson boxed in a ring with Roy Rogers in Rogers' show Knockout. He also appeared on the "Red Skelton Show" as a boxer in a skit with Red as his character of "Cauliflower" McPugg.

In 1954, he made a strong impact in Drumbeat supporting Alan Ladd. He played a murderous Apache warrior, Captain Jack, who enjoys wearing the tunics of soldiers whom he has killed. Eventually captured by Ladd and sent to the gallows, Jack dies as he has always lived, fearlessly.

In 1954, during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) proceedings, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson as Eastern European names sounded suspicious in an era of anti-Soviet sentiment. He took his inspiration from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios, situated on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street.

Bronson made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including the lead role of the episode "The Apache Kid" of the syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise. He also starred in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska (1956), There Was an Old Woman (1956), and The Woman Who Wanted to Live (1962). He starred alongside Elizabeth Montgomery in The Twilight Zone episode "Two" (1961) and played a killer named Crego in Gunsmoke (1956).

Many of his filmographies incorrectly state that he appeared in the 1958 Gary Cooper film Ten North Frederick, which was not the case.

In 1958 he was cast in his first lead role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, a low-budget, though well received, gangster film.

Bronson also scored the lead in his own ABC's detective series Man with a Camera (from 1958 to 1960), in which he portrayed Mike Kovac, a former combat photographer freelancing in New York City. Frequently, Kovac was involved in dangerous assignments for the New York Police Department.

Success, 1960–1968

Charles Bronson gained attention in 1960 with his role in John Sturges' western The Magnificent Seven, where he played one of seven gunfighters taking up the cause of the defenseless, which was based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Two years later, Sturges cast him for another popular Hollywood production The Great Escape as a claustrophobic Polish prisoner of war nicknamed "The Tunnel King" (coincidentally, Bronson was really claustrophobic because of his childhood work in a mine).

In 1961 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in a TV episode with the title Memory in White.

1962 saw Bronson in the role of Lew Nyack, a veteran boxing trainer who helped Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) buff up his skills for the big fight with Sugarboy Romero in the movie, "Kid Galahad" (a remake of a 1937 film with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in those roles).

In the first half of 1963, Bronson co-starred with Richard Egan in the NBC Western series Empire, set on a New Mexicomarker ranch. In the 1963–1964 season he portrayed Linc, the stubborn wagonmaster in the ABC series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, where he starred together with Dan O'Herlihy and then twelve-year-old Kurt Russell. In the 1965-1966 season, he guest starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James, starring Christopher Jones in the title role.

In The Dirty Dozen (1967) Bronson played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission.

European roles, 1968–1973

Although he began his career in the United States, Bronson first made a serious name for himself in European films. He became quite famous on that continent, and was known by two nicknames: The Italiansmarker called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly One") and to the French he was known as a "monstre sacré" ("holy monster").

In 1968 he starred as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. The director, Sergio Leone, once called him "the greatest actor I ever worked with", and had wanted to cast Bronson for the lead in all three of his previous westerns, now known as the Dollars trilogy. Bronson turned him down each time and the roles instead launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom.

Even though he was not yet a headliner in America in 1970, he helped the French film Rider on the Rain win a Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The following year, this overseas fame earned him a special Golden Globe Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite - Male" together with Sean Connery. This was the most prestigious of the few awards he ever received. At the time, the actor wondered if he was "too masculine" to ever become a star in the United States.

Death Wish series, 1974–1994

One of Bronson's most memorable roles came when he was over the age of 50, in Death Wish (1974), the most popular film of his long association with director Michael Winner. He played Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect. When his wife (played by Hope Lange) is murdered and his daughter raped, Kersey becomes a crime-fighting vigilante by night. It was a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences. After the famous 1984 case of Bernhard Goetz, Bronson recommended that people not imitate his character. This successful movie spawned sequels over the next 20 years, in which Bronson also starred. His great nephew, Justin Bronson, was scheduled to star in a remake of Death Wish in 2008, but the film has not yet seen the light of day.

For Walter Hill's Hard Times (1975), he starred as a Depression-era street fighter making his living in illegal bare-knuckled matches in Louisiana, earning good reviews.

Charles Bronson's highest box-office was 4th in 1975, beaten only by Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Al Pacino.

He was considered to play the role of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), but director John Carpenter thought he was too tough looking and too old for the part, and decided to cast Kurt Russell instead. In the years between 1976 and 1994, Bronson commanded high salaries to star in numerous films made by smaller production companies, most notably Cannon Films. Many of them were directed by J. Lee Thompson, a collaborative relationship that Bronson enjoyed and actively pursued, reportedly because Thompson worked quickly and efficiently. Thompson's ultra-violent films such as The Evil That Men Do and 10 To Midnight were blasted by critics, but provided Bronson with well-paid work throughout the '80s. Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death.

Charles Bronson became very popular in Japan in the early 1990s with the bushy eyebrowed TV critic Nagaharu Yodogawa ("Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara!") hosting 1-2 seasons of his films every year on NTV, one of the main TV channels in Japan.

Personal life

His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met when both were fledgling actors in Philadelphia. They had two children before divorcing.

Bronson was married to Britishmarker actress Jill Ireland from the 5th October 1968 until her death from breast cancer at age 54 in 1990. He had met her when she was married to Scottishmarker actor David McCallum. At the time, Bronson (who shared the screen with McCallum in The Great Escape) reportedly told him, "I'm going to marry your wife." Two years later, Bronson did just that. The Bronsons lived in a grand Bel Air mansion in Los Angelesmarker with seven children: two by his previous marriage, three by hers (one of whom was adopted) and two of their own (another one of whom was adopted). They also spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres in West Windsor, Vermontmarker.


On August 30, 2003 Bronson died of pneumonia while suffering from Alzheimer's disease at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At the time of his death he had been hospitalized for a month. He had been in poor health since undergoing hip replacement surgery in August 1998. He is buried in Brownsville, Vermontmarker, near his home of thirty years in West Windsor.

Legacy in pop culture

Complete filmography

Films made for television

See also


  1. Bratkowski, Stefan, "Najkrotsza Historia Polski" (The Shortest History of Poland), KAW, Warsaw, 1999, p. 9.
  3. The dress story has been repeated in Celebrity Setbacks: 800 Stars who Overcame the Odds by Ed Lucaire (ISBN 0-671-85031-8) and in an edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not!.
  4. An episode of the General Electric Theater anthology series.
  5. Charles Bronson Documentary, Biography Channel

External links

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