Tony Curtis, famous for roles in movies like “Some Like it Hot” and “Spartacus,” has died at his home in Las Vegas. He passed away Wednesday night at the age of 85 from cardiac arrest. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1958 for his role in “The Defiant Ones,” and later in life for a Primetime Emmy.
His first wife was actress Janet Leigh from “Psycho” whom he had a daughter with, actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
[photogallerylink id=14883 align=left]Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, New York, the son of Emanuel Schwartz and his wife Helen Klein. His parents were Hungarian Jewish immigrants from Mátészalka, Hungary. Hungarian was Curtis’ only language until he was five or six, postponing his schooling. His father was a tailor and the family lived in the back of the shop—the parents in one corner and Curtis and his brothers Julius and Robert in another. His mother had once made an appearance as a participant on the television show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx.
Curtis’s uncredited screen debut came in Criss Cross (1949) playing a rumba dancer. In his second film, City Across the River (also in 1949), he was credited as “Anthony Cross”. Later, as “Tony Curtis”, he cemented his reputation with breakthrough performances such as in the role of the scheming press agent Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster (who also starred in Criss Cross) and an Oscar-nominated performance as a bigoted escaped convict chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
He did both screen comedy and drama together and became the most sought after star in Hollywood: Curtis’ comedies include Some Like It Hot (1959) and Sex and the Single Girl (1964), and his dramas included playing the slave Antoninus in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) co-starring Kirk Douglas and Sir Laurence Olivier, The Outsider (1961), the true story of WW II veteran Ira Hayes, and The Boston Strangler (1968), in which he played the self-confessed murderer of the film’s title, Albert DeSalvo. The latter film was praised for Curtis’ performance.
Curtis also appeared frequently on television; he co-starred with Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders!. Later, he co-starred in McCoy and Vega$. In the early 1960s, he was immortalized as “Stony Curtis,” a voice-over guest star on The Flintstones.
Throughout his life, Curtis enjoyed painting, and since the early 1980s, painted as a second career. His work commands more than $25,000 a canvas now. In the last years of his life, he concentrated on painting rather than movies. A surrealist, Curtis claimed “Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Magritte” as influences. “I still make movies but I’m not that interested in them any more. But I paint all the time.” In 2007, his painting The Red Table was on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His paintings can also be seen at the Tony Vanderploeg Gallery in Carmel, California.
Curtis spoke of his disappointment at never being awarded an Oscar. But in March 2006, Curtis did receive the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) from France in 1995.