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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Obituary: Rod Steiger
Rod Steiger with his wife Paula and son Michael in 1997
Steiger, with fourth wife Paula and son Michael, won a star on Hollywood Boulevard

One of the last great method actors, Rod Steiger's skill was in portraying characters of brooding menace and complexity.

His crafted on screen torment was a vital ingredient of two of his most celebrated films, On the Waterfront and In the Heat of the Night.

Steiger's brooding performances were as much the result of his own experiences as hours spent in the New York Actors' Workshop.

Steiger with Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront
On The Waterfront: Steiger's big break

He explained that his roles in some of the cinema's biggest films were the result of his own search for self-respect.

Born in New Jersey to an alcoholic mother and an absent father, Steiger made his first convincing performance at 15, when he lied about his age to escape into the Navy.


Back in New York and studying alongside such talents as Marlon Brando and Lee Strasberg, Steiger made his dramatic mark on Broadway and on the flimsy sets of the then fledgling television.

His big break came in 1954, when his role of Charley Malloy in On the Waterfront earned him his first Oscar nomination.

The same film made Brando a star, and heralded a new realism in the movies of the 1950s.

Rod Steiger
Rod Steiger: Battled depression

Eager to broaden his range, the following year Steiger took a role in the movie Oklahoma.

But his desire to earn respect and stamp his authority on the screen meant Steiger's career was particularly marked by a succession of roles as lonely as they were dynamic.

He went on to play Al Capone, Napoleon, Mussolini and WC Fields and consistently gave audiences a combination of power and vulnerability.


Steiger brought menace to Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago, lady-killing black comedy to No Way to Treat a Lady and the haunted guilt of a concentration camp survivor to the 1965 film The Pawnbroker, for which he earned his second Oscar nomination.

His career was capped by an Oscar for the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night. But, despite his versatility and popularity, Steiger sank into a depression that lasted for years.

Steiger as Napoleon
Napolean was just one of Steiger's strong roles

Like his great friend actress Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the veteran actor spoke openly of this illness and his other health problems.

He was married five times. His second wife was actress Claire Bloom, with whom he starred in The Illustrated Man.

Turning his depression around, Steiger later lectured on mental health, and re-established his career in such television epics as the 1977 Jesus of Nazareth, and later at the cinema in the 1979 film The Amityville Horror.

He appeared most recently in Mars Attacks, The Hurricane and the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days, both in 1999.


Although enjoying the financial fruits of such Hollywood star-vehicles, Steiger always insisted on satisfying his conscience before his bank balance.

He had turned down the role of Patton, for which George C Scott won an Oscar, because he did not believe in glorifying war. He later admitted this was the "dumbest career move".

Steiger refused to sign contracts with big studios and vowed never to fit in with Hollywood.

Looking back on his childhood in New York, he remembered "going to the movie on Saturday afternoon and you watched the golden people".

Despite his apparent hostility to Hollywood, Steiger was given his own golden star on Hollywood Boulevard.

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Rod Steiger

Steiger's life in pictures

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