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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Obituary: Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando's charismatic roles lit up the silver screen

Actor Marlon Brando has died in Los Angeles at the age of 80. BBC News Online looks back at his film career.

He claimed never to enjoy acting, but Marlon Brando was one of the most influential performers of his generation.

He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of a prosperous businessman and a sensitive, stage-struck mother who was an amateur actress and a full-time alcoholic.

Brando left home at 19 for New York, where he decided to become an actor.

His coach, Stella Adler, helped the young actor to develop the Method style for which Brando became known.

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh
Brando and co-star Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
His stage career began in 1944, and three years later, aged 23, he won the role of Stanley Kowalski in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

"There had never been such a display of dangerous, brutal male beauty on an American stage," one critic later remarked.

But despite the plaudits, Brando never returned to the stage.

In 1950 he went to Hollywood, and made a film version of Streetcar, followed by The Wild One - which was banned in Britain for several years over fears it would encourage delinquency - and On the Waterfront.

In all three he played an inarticulate, mumbling rebel, and the image clung to him.

On the Waterfront brought him his first Academy Award. It also gave him one of the most memorable lines in cinema history, when he said, "I could'a been a contender."

Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in The Godfather
Marlon Brando starred as Don Corleone in The Godfather
Of his performance, director Elia Kazan said, "If there is a better performance by a man in the history of American film, I don't know what it is."

As the 1950s went on, Brando demonstrated his range by starring as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls and a Nazi officer in The Young Lions.

During the 1960s, his career began to falter. Mutiny on the Bounty and Charlie Chaplin's A Countess from Hong Kong were among a long list of films which failed to impress the public or critics.

But in 1972 he made a comeback with The Godfather. Brando's role as the Mafia leader, Don Vito Corleone, restored his reputation, although he suffered the humiliation of having to audition for the part.

It proved to be another Oscar winner, but he refused to accept the prize. Instead, he made a political statement by sending a young woman in Indian costume to refuse the award, to demonstrate his outrage over the plight of Native Americans.

Brando and wife Tarita in Mutiny on the Bounty
Brando and wife Tarita in Mutiny on the Bounty
He followed The Godfather with the controversial Last Tango in Paris by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci.

Later in his career, Brando was content to accept cameo roles in films such as Superman and Apocalypse Now, until 1989, when he had a small but important role as a South African lawyer in A Dry White Season.

Brando was the master of broody silences and electric eruptions on screen, and had a reputation for being temperamental.

Adopting a reclusive lifestyle, he spent much of his free time on a small coral island, Tetiaroa, 25 miles north of Tahiti. His third wife was Mutiny on the Bounty co-star Tarita Teripaia, a local woman.

He was a larger-than-life figure whose life was replete with short-lived marriages, bitter divorces, child custody battles and torrid affairs.

Brando's daughter Cheyenne
Brando's daughter Cheyenne committed suicide
The actor's weight went up to 23 stone, and at the age of 65 he fathered his sixth child by a Mexican maid.

His family life proved turbulent. In 1990 his son, Christian, shot his half-sister's boyfriend at Brando's Los Angeles mansion while he was in residence.

Christian later served five years of a 10-year sentence for manslaughter.

Meanwhile Brando's daughter, Cheyenne, committed suicide in April 1995.

By 1996, Brando was disillusioned about his career and his personal life. He was quoted as saying: "I hate acting. I only did it for the money."

He made a public apology for his remarks in suggesting that it was a pity that the Jews who "owned and ran" the movie industry did not show more sensitivity in portraying other ethnic or religious groups.

An overweight Marlon Brando
An overweight, middle-aged Brando shied away from public life
Those members of his extended family that he hadn't alienated described him as a warm and generous man - far from the rebel without a cause he was often depicted.

Substantial parts of his colossal film fees went to charity and he continued to be a staunch liberal and ally of the underdog.

But his ability to convey depth, subtlety and complexity in his characterisations, particularly in those early years, is what Marlon Brando will be best remembered for.

As his one-time friend and co-star Jack Nicholson once said, "He gave us our freedom."

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"The naturalistic style he created made him the most influential actor of his generation"

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