Actor Tony Curtis, best known for his comedic turn as a cross-dressing musician in ‘Some Like It Hot,’ has died at the age of 85, US media reported Thursday, citing his family.
A representative for Curtis’ daughter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, confirmed his death to Entertainment Tonight, the television program said on its website. ABC News also reported the death.
The Bronx-born Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “The Defiant Ones” with Sidney Poitier, but he was best remembered as Marilyn Monroe’s cross-dressing paramour in the 1959 Billy Wilder classic “Some Like It Hot.”
Curtis’s life could have come straight from one of his Hollywood scripts: rising from the streets of the Bronx to become a matinee idol who boasted of sleeping with 1,000 women.
He will be remembered as much for the off-screen dalliances as for acting performaces that never perhaps won the critical acclaim and respect from his peers that he sought.
A string of hits alongside Burt Lancaster in the late 1950s, including “Trapeze” and “Sweet Smell of Success,” transformed the son of poor Hungarian immigrants into one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood.
Curtis received his only Oscar nomination for the 1958 film “The Defiant Ones” in which he and Sidney Poitier play prison inmates who break out and spend most of the story chained together by handcuffs.
Curtis insisted his black co-star receive double billing — a racial breakthrough at the time.
Known for his thick crop of black hair, he became such a mega-star that his raffish quiff was adopted by Elvis Presley — suddenly everyone wanted what barbers knew as a “Tony Curtis.”
The eldest child of Jewish immigrants, Curtis was born on June 3, 1925 and grew up in the back of his father’s tailor shop. His parents were so poor that he and brother Julius were briefly dispatched to an orphanage.
In his frank 2008 autobiography “American Prince: A Memoir,” Curtis laid bare that poverty-stricken Bronx upbringing, detailing the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In 1938, Julius died after being hit by a truck. Family tragedy would also haunt Curtis later in life when his son Nicholas died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23.
Curtis enlisted at 16 in the Marines and ended up as a crewman on a submarine, witnessing at close-hand the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945.
He later revealed he had been immitating his on-screen hero Cary Grant after watching him in the submarine war film “Destination Tokyo”.
After earning an honorable discharge, Curtis enrolled in acting school and began playing stage roles until film producer David Selznick spotted the young talent.
Bit-parts paid the bills until Curtis, who by this time had dispensed of his given name Bernard Schwartz, got his break with a major role in the 1950 action-western “Sierra.”
In a 2008 interview with AFP at his art studio overlooking the Las Vegas Strip skyline, Curtis described his dramatic sex-soaked ascent to Hollywood stardom as well as a traumatic decline and descent into cocaine addiction.
“I don’t feel like I got the movies I should’ve gotten,” said Curtis, who felt he was denied meaty roles that went to contemporaries Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. “I felt I deserved more than that the industry had given me.
He also acknowledged he may have been addicted to sex. “I realized if I could mount a girl — and that sounds very cruel and very bestial but examine it for what it is — a woman has accepted me.
“The main force in me was to be accepted by others. Not education, not money in my pocket, nothing except to be accepted by a girl.”
After a three-year affair with a young Marilyn Monroe, Curtis married six times and was later candid about how his misdeeds had destroyed five marriages and ruined his relationships with his children.
Curtis’s first wife was Janet Leigh, the screaming shower scene starlet of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
“For a while, we were Hollywood’s golden couple,” he later said.
“I was very dedicated and devoted to Janet, and on top of my trade, but in her eyes that goldenness started to wear off. I realized that whatever I was, I wasn’t enough for Janet. That hurt me a lot and broke my heart.”
Estranged for many years from the couple’s actress daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, he is survived by his sixth wife Jill, who he married in 1998 when he was 73 and she was a 30-year-old voluptuous blonde.
A veteran of more than 120 films, Curtis was also an accomplished flautist and a painter whose work resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.