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Charles Bronson
Charles Bronson Cannes.jpg
Born
Charles Dennis Buchinsky

(1921-11-03)November 3, 1921
Died August 30, 2003(2003-08-30) (aged 81)
Cause of death Pneumonia
Alzheimer's disease
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–1999
Spouse(s) Harriet Tendler (1949–67; divorced)
Jill Ireland (1968–90; her death)
Kim Weeks (1998–2003; his death)

Charles Bronson (born Charles Dennis Buchinsky; Lithuanian: Karolis Dionyzas Bučinskis; November 3, 1921 – August 30, 2003) was an American actor.

He starred in films such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Rider on the Rain, The Mechanic, and the Death Wish series. He was often cast in the role of a police officer, gunfighter, or vigilante in revenge-oriented plot lines. He had long collaborations with film directors Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson. In 1965, he was featured as Major Wolenski in Battle of the Bulge.

Early life

Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky, the 11th of 15 children, in a Roman Catholic family of Lithuanian descent in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania in the coal region of the Allegheny Mountains north of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

His father, Valteris P. Bučinskis (who later adjusted his name to Walter Buchinsky to sound more "American"), hailed from the town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania. Bronson's mother, Mary (Valinsky), whose parents were from Lithuania, was born in the coal mining town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. His father had Lipka Tatar roots.

Bronson learned to speak English when he was a teenager; before that, he spoke Lithuanian and Russian.

Bronson was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. When Bronson was 10 years old, his father died and he went to work in the coal mines, first in the mining office and then in the mine. He later said he earned one dollar for each ton of coal that he mined. He worked in the mine until he entered military service during World War II. His family was so poor that, at one time, he had to wear his sister's dress to school for lack of clothing.

World War II service

In 1943, Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress aerial gunner with the Guam-based 61st Bombardment Squadron within the 39th Bombardment Group, which conducted combat missions against the Japanese home islands. He flew 25 missions and received a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle.

Acting career

Early roles, 1951–1959

After the end of World War II, Bronson worked at many odd jobs until joining a theatrical group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He later shared an apartment in New York City with Jack Klugman while both were aspiring to play on the stage. In 1950, he married and moved to Hollywood, where he enrolled in acting classes and began to find small roles.

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 mute henchman Igor). In 1952, Bronson boxed in a ring with Roy Rogers in Rogers' show Knockout. He appeared on an episode of The Red Skelton Show as a boxer in a skit with Skelton playing "Cauliflower McPugg". He also had a part credited as Charles Buchinsky in a western named Riding Shotgun, starring Randolph Scott. In 1954, Bronson made a strong impact in Drum Beat as a murderous Modoc warrior, Captain Jack, who relishes wearing the tunics of soldiers he has killed. In 1954, during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) proceedings, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson at the suggestion of his agent, who feared that an Eastern European surname might damage his career.

He made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including a 1952 segment, with fellow guest star Lee Marvin, of Biff Baker, U.S.A., an espionage series on CBS starring Alan Hale, Jr. and played a killer named Crego in Gunsmoke (1956). Bronson had the lead role of the episode "The Apache Kid" of the syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise, starring John Bromfield; Bronson was subsequently cast twice in 1959 after the series was renamed U.S. Marshal.

He guest-starred in the short-lived CBS situation comedy, Hey, Jeannie! and 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). In 1957, Bronson was cast in the Western series Colt .45 as an outlaw named Danny Arnold in the episode "Young Gun". He scored the lead in his own ABC's detective series Man with a Camera (1958–1960), in which he portrayed Mike Kovac, a former combat photographer freelancing in New York City.

In 1959, he played Steve Ogrodowski, a naval intelligence officer, in two episodes of the CBS military sitcom/drama, Hennesey, starring Jackie Cooper, and he played Rogue Donovan, an escaped murderer in Yancy Derringer (episode: "Hell and High Water"). Bronson starred alongside Elizabeth Montgomery in a Twilight Zone episode ("Two"; 1961). He appeared in five episodes of Richard Boone's Have Gun – Will Travel (1957–63). In 1958, he was cast in his first lead film role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, followed by the lead role in the World War II film When Hell Broke Loose later the same year.

Death

Bronson's health deteriorated in his later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in August 1998. Bronson died at age 81 on August 30, 2003 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Although pneumonia and/or Alzheimer's disease have been cited as his cause of death, in fact neither appears on his death certificate, which cites "respiratory failure", "metastatic lung cancer", with, secondarily, "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" and "congestive cardiomyopathy" as the causes of death. He was interred at Brownsville Cemetery in West Windsor, Vermont.

Filmography

Actor

Year Title Role Director Genre
1951 The Mob Jack - Longshoreman (uncredited) Robert Parrish Crime thriller
The People Against O'Hara Angelo Korvac (uncredited) John Sturges Crime drama
You're in the Navy Now Wascylewski (uncredited) Henry Hathaway War comedy
1952 Bloodhound of Broadway Phil Green, a.k.a. "Pittsburgh Philo" (uncredited) Harmon Jones Musical
Battle Zone Private (uncredited) Lesley Selander War
Pat and Mike Henry 'Hank' Tasling (as Charles Buchinski) George Cukor Comedy
Diplomatic Courier Russian Agent (uncredited) Henry Hathaway Mystery thriller
My Six Convicts Jocko (as Charles Buchinsky) Hugo Fregonese Comedy drama
The Marrying Kind Eddie - Co-Worker at Plant (uncredited) George Cukor Comedy drama
Red Skies of Montana Neff (uncredited) Joseph M. Newman Adventure
1953 Miss Sadie Thompson Pvt. Edwards (as Charles Buchinsky) Curtis Bernhardt Musical
House of Wax Igor (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Horror
Off Limits Russell (uncredited) George Marshall Comedy
The Clown Eddie, Dice Player (uncredited) Robert Z. Leonard Drama
Torpedo Alley Submariner (uncredited) Lew Landers Drama
1954 Vera Cruz Pittsburgh Robert Aldrich Western
Drum Beat Kintpuash, a.k.a. Captain Jack Delmer Daves Western
Apache Hondo (as Charles Buchinsky) Robert Aldrich Western
Riding Shotgun Pinto (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Western
Tennessee Champ Sixty Jubel a.k.a. The Biloxi Blockbuster (as Charles Buchinsky) Fred M. Wilcox B-movie drama
Crime Wave Ben Hastings (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Crime drama
1955 Target Zero Sgt. Vince Gaspari Harmon Jones War drama
Big House, U.S.A. Benny Kelly Howard W. Koch Crime thriller
1956 Jubal Reb Haislipp Delmer Daves Western
Man with a Camera Mike Kovac William A. Seiter Crime Drama
1957 Run of the Arrow Blue Buffalo Samuel Fuller Western
1958 Gang War Alan Avery Gene Fowler Jr. Drama
When Hell Broke Loose Steve Boland Kenneth G. Crane War
Machine-Gun Kelly Machine Gun Kelly Roger Corman Crime biography
Showdown at Boot Hill Luke Welsh Gene Fowler, Jr. Western
1959 Never So Few Sgt. John Danforth John Sturges War
1960 The Magnificent Seven Bernardo O'Reilly John Sturges Western
1961 Master of the World John Strock William Witney Sci-fi
A Thunder of Drums Trooper Hanna Joseph M. Newman Western
1962 X-15 Lt. Col. Lee Brandon Richard Donner Aviation drama
Kid Galahad Lew Nyack Phil Karlson Musical
1963 The Great Escape Flt. Lt. Danny Velinski, "The Tunnel King" John Sturges War
4 for Texas Matson Robert Aldrich Western comedy
1965 Guns of Diablo Linc Murdock Boris Sagal Western
The Sandpiper Cos Erickson Vincente Minnelli Drama
Battle of the Bulge Maj. Wolenski Ken Annakin War
The Bull of the West Ben Justin Jerry Hopper/Paul Stanley Western
1966 This Property Is Condemned J.J. Nichols Sydney Pollack Drama
The Meanest Men in the West Charles S. Dubin Harge Talbot Jr. Western
1967 The Dirty Dozen Joseph Wladislaw Robert Aldrich War
1968 Farewell, Friend Franz Propp Jean Herman Crime adventure
Villa Rides Rodolfo Fierro Buzz Kulik War
Once Upon a Time in the West Harmonica Sergio Leone Western
1968 Guns for San Sebastian Teclo Henri Verneuil Western
1969 Twinky (a.k.a. Lola) Scott Wardman Richard Donner Comedy romance
You Can't Win 'Em All Josh Corey Peter Collinson War
1970 Rider on the Rain Col. Harry Dobbs René Clément Mystery thriller
Violent City Jeff Heston Sergio Sollima Thriller
1971 Cold Sweat Joe Martin Terence Young Thriller
Someone Behind the Door The Stranger Nicolas Gessner Crime drama
Red Sun Link Stuart Terence Young Western
1972 The Valachi Papers Joe Valachi Terence Young Crime
Chato's Land Pardon Chato Michael Winner Western
The Mechanic Arthur Bishop Michael Winner Thriller
1973 The Stone Killer Lou Torrey Michael Winner Crime drama
Chino Chino Valdez John Sturges, Duilio Coletti Western
1974 Mr. Majestyk Vince Majestyk Richard Fleischer Crime drama
Death Wish Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime thriller
1975 Breakheart Pass Deakin Tom Gries Western adventure
Breakout Nick Colton Tom Gries Adventure drama
Hard Times Chaney Walter Hill Drama
1976 From Noon Till Three Graham Dorsey Frank D. Gilroy Western comedy
St. Ives Raymond St Ives J. Lee Thompson Crime drama
1977 Raid on Entebbe Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron Irvin Kershner Drama
The White Buffalo Wild Bill Hickok (James Otis) J. Lee Thompson Western
1978 Telefon Major Grigori Bortsov Don Siegel Spy
1979 Love and Bullets Charlie Congers Stuart Rosenberg Crime drama
1980 Borderline Jeb Maynard Jerrold Freedman Drama
Caboblanco Gifford Hoyt J. Lee Thompson Drama
1981 Death Hunt Albert Johnson Peter R. Hunt Western adventure
1982 Death Wish II Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime drama
1983 10 to Midnight Leo Kessler J. Lee Thompson Crime thriller
1984 The Evil That Men Do Holland / Bart Smith J. Lee Thompson Thriller
1985 Death Wish 3 Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime drama
1986 Murphy's Law Jack Murphy J. Lee Thompson Thriller
Act of Vengeance "Jock" Yablonski John Mackenzie Crime drama
1987 Assassination Jay Killion Peter R. Hunt Thriller
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown Paul Kersey J. Lee Thompson Crime drama
1988 Messenger of Death Garret Smith J. Lee Thompson Crime thriller
1989 Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects Lieutenant Crowe J. Lee Thompson Drama
1991 The Indian Runner Mr. Roberts Sean Penn Drama
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus Francis Church Charles Jarrott Drama
1993 The Sea Wolf Capt. Wolf Larsen Michael Anderson Adventure
Donato and Daughter Sgt. Mike Donato Rod Holcomb Drama
1994 Death Wish V: The Face of Death Paul Kersey Allan A. Goldstein Thriller
1995 Family of Cops Paul Fein Ted Kotcheff Thriller
1997 Family of Cops 2 Paul Fein David Greene Crime drama
1999 Family of Cops 3 Paul Fein Sheldon Larry Drama

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