UPDATE: Jamie Lee Curtis has released a statement: "My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages. He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed."
Tony Curtis had one dream: to be in the movies. He succeeded. And how.
Curtis, a last link to a bygone Hollywood of classic films (Spartacus, Some Like It Hot, The Defiant Ones) and classic stars (Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Cary Grant), died Wednesday. He was 85.
Nevada's Clark County coroner says the entertainer and father of Jamie Lee Curtis died of cardiac arrest at 9:25 p.m. local time at his Las Vegas-area home.
Not the kind of actor who won awards—although he was nominated once for an Oscar—Curtis was the kind of star who won fans. And leading ladies.
"I was the handsomest of all the boys," Curtis told Britain's Daily Mail.
Curtis' good looks, if not his self-confidence, landed him an early role with Jimmy Stewart (Winchester '73), and an early marriage to actress Janet Leigh (Psycho). The couple had two children, including Jamie Lee.
"I'm just a lucky guy," Curtis said in a recent interview. "I was blessed."
The 1950s were Curtis' heyday. He made the racial parable The Defiant Ones, which put him on a chain gang with Sidney Poitier, the gender-bending Billy Wilder mob comedy Some Like It Hot, which put him and Lemmon in dresses, and which led him to rekindle a long-ago affair with Monroe, the ink-stained The Sweet Smell of Success, with Burt Lancaster, and the World War II submarine comedy, Operation Petticoat, with Grant.
In 1960, he made perhaps the ultimate epic, Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas' Roman-slave drama Spartacus, which paired him in a famously censored (and since restored) bathhouse scene with Laurence Olivier.
After the 1968 true-crime thriller, The Boston Strangler, Curtis' A-list run gave way to TV and movies such as The Manitou and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.
Looking back, Curtis cited his 1962 divorce from Leigh as the turning point. "A lot of people didn't like it," Curtis told Reuters in 2008. "I'm sorry they took it that way but I could not swallow my own needs just to get nice headlines in magazines."
Curtis' needs—and conquests—in the ladies department were considerable. He married five times. He got Monroe pregnant. (He said she miscarried. He also said—perhaps his most famous soundbite—that kissing her was like "kissing Hitler." He later said he was joking.) By his own reckoning, he was more hooked on women than he was on drugs—and, for a time, he was hooked on both cocaine and heroin.
Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, Curtis lost the name—deigned "too Jewish" for mid-20th-century ears—but never the New Yawk flavor, no matter how ancient a European he portrayed. Curtis didn't let anything—prejudice or accents—get in the way of his dream.
"When I was young there were times that I would get pissed off and angry, but I knew I was going to get in the movies," Curtis told Esquire. "I looked in the mirror, and I said, 'How could they miss me?' And they didn't."
(Originally published Sept. 30, 2010, at 6:07 a.m. PT)