Page last updated at 21:51 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Forties heart-throb Johnson dies

Van Johnson, in an image from 1948
Van Johnson's film career included comedies, dramas and action

US actor Van Johnson, a Hollywood heart-throb of the 1940s and 1950s, has died of natural causes at the age of 92 in a nursing home in New York State.

Johnson's boy-next-door wholesomeness came over in such films as 30 Seconds over Tokyo, A Guy Named Joe and The Caine Mutiny.

His contract to MGM saw him act opposite Esther Williams, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and others.

He also played in the 1954 film of the musical Brigadoon.

Johnson died at Tappan Zee Manor, an assisted living centre in Nyack, New York, said Wendy Bleisweiss, a close friend.

Bitter divorce

Born in Newport, Rhode Island, Johnson was a tall, handsome actor frequently cast as an all-American boy.

A versatile performer, he appeared in comedies such as The Bride Goes Wild, war movies such as Go for Broke and dramas such as Marie Curie.

In 1985, he had a small role as a movie actor in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Nicknamed "the non-singing Sinatra", he married only once, in 1947, to Eve Wynn.

The marriage produced a daughter, Schuyler, but ended 13 years later.

"She wiped me out in the ugliest divorce in Hollywood history," Johnson told reporters.

Painting with Churchill

Early in his career, which latterly saw him act in TV series like Fantasy Island and play in La Cage aux Folles on Broadway in the 1980s, he narrowly survived a car accident.

On 1 April 1943, his DeSoto convertible was struck head on by another car.

"They tell me I was almost decapitated, but I never lost consciousness," he recalled.

"I spent four months in the hospital after they sewed the top of my head back on. I still have a disc of bone in my forehead five inches long."

Johnson also tried his hand at painting.

In a 1988 interview, he recalled an art lesson he received from British statesman Winston Churchill aboard the Onassis yacht.

"He got his canvas out and so did I," Johnson said.

"He was working away, and he growled at me, 'Don't just sit there and stare! Get some paint and splash it on!'"

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