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    Charles Bronson Dead

    Charles Bronson's résumé is not for the faint of heart: Death Wish, Death Hunt, Love and Bullets, Assassination.

    The character actor turned action star, whose tough-guy persona was rivaled in the 1970s only by Clint Eastwood, died Saturday. His wife, Kim, was at his side. He was 81.

    Bronson had been in grave condition for several weeks with pneumonia, hospitalized at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

    His health had been the subject of intense speculation for several years. In 2001, Bronson's camp denied reports he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

    Bronson's career spanned more than 80 movies, nearly 50 years and a trio of alpha-male classics, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen.

    Like his contemporary Eastwood, Bronson didn't achieve leading tough-guy status until middle age. Also like Eastwood, his breakthrough was aided by a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, in Bronson's case, 1969's Once Upon a Time in the West.

    While Eastwood went on to tap into good, old-fashioned American male rage in the Dirty Harry movies, Bronson did his part for the repressed majority in the Death Wish series.

    In five films, starting with 1974's original and running through 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death, Bronson was Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered New York City architect turned vigilante killing machine.

    The first movie saw Kersey avenging the murder of his wife and the rape of his daughter. Subsequent entries saw Kersey battle "assorted rapists, muggers, and murderers [who] attack everyone he knows," as noted by Steven H. Scheuer's reference book, Movies on TV and Videocassette.

    The mustachioed Bronson went on to blow away the bad guys in films such as Telefon, Breakout and Assassination.

    All three of those titles costarred Jill Ireland, Bronson's second wife and frequent costar. The couple, who wed in 1968, remained married until Ireland's 1990 death from cancer. Ireland also appeared alongside her husband in Death Wish II, the mob drama The Valachi Papers and nearly a dozen others.

    Bronson wed third wife Kim Weeks, an actress some 40 years his junior, in 1998. Weeks worked with Bronson in the 1995 TV movie A Family of Cops and its two sequels.

    As a sturdy, clean-shaven character actor in the 1950s and early 1960s, Bronson supported everybody from Elvis in Kid Galahad to Katharine Hepburn in Pat and Mike.

    In the latter film, Bronson was billed under his given name Charles Buchinski. The child of Lithuanian immigrants was born November 3, 1921, in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania.

    As a young man, he came about his craggy looks the honest way--working in a coal mine and later, serving in World War II.

    "I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited," went Bronson's most notable quotable.

    After the war, Bronson moved West and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1951, the young actor, billed by his given name, earned his movie stripes with a bit part in the comedy You're in the Navy Now.

    As the slightly altered Charles Buchinsky (note the "y," in place of the original "i"), he lumbered around as Vincent Price's toady, Igor, in the 3-D horror classic House of Wax.

    On TV, wherever there was a western, Bronson was guest starring on it. From the early 1950s to late 1960s, he logged saddle time on Bonanza, Big Valley, Gunsmoke and Rawhide, a series featuring that Eastwood fellow, among others.

    In the mid-1950s, Buchinski/Buchinsky renamed himself Bronson, after the Bronson Avenue entrance at Paramount Studios, or so Hollywood lore goes.

    B-movie king Roger Corman gave the newly christened Bronson an early starring role in the 1958 shoot-'em-up Machine Gun Kelly.

    The 1960s brought the man's-man epics. Bronson played a hired killer in The Magnificent Seven, Akira Kurosawa's samurai epic transplanted to a Mexican village. He dug tunnels to help spring POW Steve McQueen in the World War II adventure The Great Escape. And he trained to go behind Nazi enemy lines with the likes of footballer Jim Brown and folk-singer Trini Lopez in The Dirty Dozen, another WWII actioner.

    Like one of his rugged characters, Bronson soldiered on, his career never really flagging, even as he endured Ireland's illness. In the 1990s, he occasionally disarmed, playing Sean Penn's father in The Indian Runner and a New York newspaper editor in the holiday TV movie Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.

    Survivors include third wife Kim, six children and two grandchildren. Funeral services will be private.

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