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, Battle of the Bulge, 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.
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 (née Valinsky), whose parents were from Lithuania, was born in the coal mining town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. The family 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.
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.
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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, directed by Henry Hathaway. Other early screen appearances were in The Mob (1951); The People Against O'Hara (1951), directed by John Sturges; Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952); Battle Zone (1952); Pat and Mike (1952), as a boxer; Diplomatic Courier (1952), another for Hathaway; My Six Convicts (1952); The Marrying Kind (1952); and Red Skies of Montana (1952).
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 appeared with fellow guest star Lee Marvin in an episode of Biff Baker, U.S.A., an espionage series on CBS starring Alan Hale, Jr.
He had small roles in Miss Sadie Thompson (1953); House of Wax (1953), directed by Andre de Toth; The Clown (1953); Torpedo Alley (1953); and Riding Shotgun, starring Randolph Scott, directed by de Toth again.
Bronson had a notable support part as an Indian in Apache (1954) for director Robert Aldrich who then used him again in Vera Cruz (1954). Bronson then made a strong impact as the main villain in the Alan Ladd western Drum Beat as a murderous Modoc warrior, Captain Jack (based on a real person), 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.
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).
He was cast in leading man roles in some low budget films, notably, Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), a biopic of a real life gangster directed by Roger Corman. He also starred in Gang War (1958), When Hell Broke Loose (1958), and Showdown at Boot Hill (1959).
On television, 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).
Bronson had a support role in an expensive war film, Never So Few (1959), directed by John Sturges. Bronson was cast in the 1960 episode "Zigzag" of Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. That same year, he was cast as "Dutch Malkin" in the 1960 episode "The Generous Politician" of The Islanders.
In 1960, he garnered attention in John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, in which he was cast as one of seven gunfighters taking up the cause of the defenseless. During filming, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself, according to Eli Wallach. He received $50,000 for this role. This role made him a favorite actor of many in the since disbanded Soviet Union, such as Vladimir Vysotsky.
In 1961, Bronson was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in an episode entitled "Memory in White" of CBS's General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. In 1962, he appeared alongside Elvis Presley in Kid Galahad. In 1963, he co-starred in the series Empire.
Sturges cast Bronson for another Hollywood production, The Great Escape (1963), as claustrophobic Polish prisoner of war Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski, nicknamed "The Tunnel King" (coincidentally, Bronson was really claustrophobic because of his childhood work in a mine). The film was a huge hit and Bronson had one of the leads, but he still found himself playing a villain in 4 for Texas (1963) for Robert Aldrich.
Bronson had the lead in Guns of Diablo (1965), a Western. In the 1965–1966 season, he guest-starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James. In 1965, Bronson was cast as a demolitions expert in an episode of ABC's Combat!
He had a relatively minor role in Battle of the Bulge (1965) and was billed fourth in MGM's The Sandpiper (1966), which the popularity of stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor propelled to a big success. He was billed third in This Property Is Condemned (1966).
That year Aldrich gave Bronson an excellent role in The Dirty Dozen (1967), where he played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission. It was a massive box office success but Bronson was only the third lead. He seemed unable to make the transition to star of major studio films in Hollywood. In Villa Rides (1968) he supported Robert Mitchum and Yul Brynner, playing the real-life Rodolfo Fierro.
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Bronson made a serious name for himself in European films. He was making Villa Rides when approached by the producers of a French film Adieu l'ami looking for an American co-star for Alain Delon. Bronson's agent Paul Kohner later recalled the producer pitched the actor "on the fact that in the American film industry all the money, all the publicity, goes to the pretty boy hero types. In Europe... the public is attracted by character, not face."
The film was a big success in Europe. Even more popular was Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) where Bronson played Harmonica. The director, Sergio Leone, once called him "the greatest actor I ever worked with", and had wanted to cast Bronson for the lead in 1964's A Fistful of Dollars. Bronson turned him down and the role launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom. The film was the biggest hit of 1969 in France.
Bronson appeared in a French action film, Guns for San Sebastian (1968) alongside Anthony Quinn. In Britain, he was cast in the lead of Lola (1969), playing a middle-aged man in love with a 16-year-old girl. He then made a buddy comedy with Tony Curtis in Turkey, You Can't Win 'Em All (1970).
Bronson starred in some French-Italian action films, Violent City (1970) and Cold Sweat (1970), the latter directed by Terence Young. He was in a French thriller, Someone Behind the Door (1971) alongside Anthony Perkins, then starred in another directed by Young, the French-Spanish-Italian Western, Red Sun (1971). The Valachi Papers (1972) was a third with Young; Bronson played Joseph Valachi.
In 1972 Bronson began a string of successful action films for United Artists, beginning with Chato's Land (1972), although he had done several films for UA before this in the 1960s (The Magnificent Seven, etc.).
Chato's Land was the first film Bronson made with director Michael Winner'. Winner was reunited with Bronson in The Mechanic (1972) andThe Stone Killer (1973). Bronson worked with Sturges on Chino (1973), then did Mr. Majestyk (1974) with Richard Fleischer based on a book by Elmore Leonard.
Bronson's most famous role came when he was age 52, 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 who turns into a crime-fighting vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter sexually assaulted. This movie spawned four sequels over the next two decades, all starring Bronson.
Bronson starred in two films directed by Tom Gries: Breakout (1975), and Breakheart Pass (1975), a Western adapted from a novel by Alistair Maclean, which was a box office disappointment. He also starred in the directorial debut of Walter Hill, Hard Times (1975), playing a Depression-era street fighter making his living in illegal bare-knuckled matches in Louisiana. He earned good reviews. Bronson reached his pinnacle in box-office drawing power in 1975, when he was ranked 4th, behind only Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, and Al Pacino.
Bronson did a Western comedy for UA, From Noon till Three (1976) but it was not well received. At Warner Bros he made St. Ives (1976), his first film with director J. Lee Thompson. He played Dan Shomron in Raid on Entebbe (1977), then was reunited with Thompson in The White Buffalo (1977), produced by Dino de Laurentiis for UA. UA also released Telefon (1977), directed by Don Siegel.
Bronson went on to make two films for ITC, Love and Bullets (1979) and Borderline (1980). He was reunited with Thompson on Caboblanco (1980), and played Albert Johnson in Death Hunt (1981), opposite Lee Marvin.
He was considered for 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, for whom some of his last films were made.
Cannon Films prompted hired Bronson for 10 to Midnight (1983), directed by J. Lee Thompson, where Bronson played a cop chasing a serial killer. ITC Entertainment used Thompson and Bronson on The Evil That Men Do (1984), then Cannon reunited Bronson and Winner for Death Wish 3 (1985). Bronson did Murphy's Law (1986) for Cannon with Thompson.
Bronson had a slight change of pace with a TV movie, Act of Vengeance (1986) playing real life union worker Joseph Yablonski directed by John Mackenzie. More typical of this period were four Cannon action films: Assassination (1987) directed by Peter Hunt, and three with Thompson: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1988), Messenger of Death (1989) and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989).
Bronson's first non action film in a long time was The Indian Runner (1991), directed by Sean Penn. He followed this with some TV movies, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and The Sea Wolf (1993).
Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death. His final films were the TV movies Family of Cops (1995), Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops 2 (1997) and Family of Cops 3 (1999).
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His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met when both were fledgling actors in Philadelphia. They had two children before divorcing in 1965. She wrote in her memoir that she "was an 18-year-old virgin when she met the 26-year-old Charlie Buchinsky at a Philadelphia acting school in 1947. Two years later, with the grudging consent of her father, a successful, Jewish dairy farmer, Tendler wed Buchinsky, a Catholic and a former coal miner. Tendler supported them both while she and Charlie pursued their acting dreams. On their first date, he had four cents in his pocket — and went on, now as Charles Bronson, to become one of the highest paid actors in the country."
Bronson was married to English actress Jill Ireland from October 5, 1968, until her death in 1990. He had met her in 1962, when she was married to Scottish 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". The Bronsons lived in a grand Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles 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). After they married, she often played his leading lady, and they starred in fourteen films together.
To maintain a close family, they would load up everyone and take them to wherever filming was taking place, so that they could all be together. They spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres (1.1 km2) in West Windsor, Vermont, where Ireland raised horses and provided training for their daughter Zuleika so that she could perform at the higher levels of horse showing. The Vermont farm, "Zuleika Farm", was named for the only natural child between them. During the late 1980s through the mid-1990s Bronson regularly spent winter holidays vacationing with his family in Snowmass, Colorado.
On May 18, 1990, aged 54, after a long battle with breast cancer, Jill Ireland died of the disease at their home in Malibu, California. In December 1998, Bronson was married a third time to Kim Weeks, a former employee of Dove Audio who had helped record Ireland in the production of her audiobooks. The couple were married for five years until Bronson's death in 2003.
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, 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.
|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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