With a brilliant career and a very controversial life, Brando remains an absolute icon, legend and influential figure in pop culture
Remembering the life and career of the acting legend Marlon Brando
The absolute Hollywood legend Marlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska on April 3, 1924. Brando came to prominence in 1951 with his acclaimed role of Stanley Kowlaski in the film A Streetcar Named Desire. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination and a quick rise in Hollywood’s star system, becoming one of the most popular actors of all time worldwide. During the 1950’s Brando had a flawless career, critically acclaimed and praised for almost every role he played, including as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, the rebellious motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, 1953, Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! 1952, Mark Antony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1953 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Air Force Major Lloyd Gruver in Sayonara, 1957. During the 1960’s Brando saw his career taking an unexpected commercial and critical downturn, which proved to be temporary, as an older Brando returns to the big screen with another set of memorable characters such as Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, and the controversial Bernardo Bertolucci Last Tango in Paris, both premiered in 1972. Later in the decade, Brando also successfully appeared in Superman, and Apocalypse Now. By then, the actor already was walking against the tide of Hollywood’s star system, increasingly rejecting his star status and distancing himself from the film industry. Once known as one of the world’s most beautiful and attractive man, the former sex symbol also imposed to himself physical changes, showing no longer interest in keeping an attractive as he grew older. Brando’s life was filled no just with a successful career as an actor but also with several scandals, including the murder of his daughter’s Cheyenne partner by his son Christian. The aftermath of the murder resulted on Cheyenne’s suicide at age 25 after years struggling with mental health problems.
A father to 11 children, three of whom adopted, Brando’s tumultuous romantic and sexual life included both women and men. An open bisexual man, in 1976 he told in an interview that “Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me.” During the 1950’s, Brando and James Dean, who was obsessed by him both as an actor and as a person, reportedly had a secret romantic affair, appearing a few times together in public without ever disclosing what was already a Hollywood open secret. Marlon Brando, who also was an activist for many humanitarian and civil rights causes, received two Academy Awards during his career and was nominated several times. He won the award for the 1954 film On the Waterfront and for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, 1972, the second one, he controversially declined to receive it, based on personal integrity and his activism beliefs. During the Academy Awards ceremony in 1973, that he boycotted, when his name was announced as the winner for Best Actor, the native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather went on stage replacing him at his request. Wearing an Apache dress and long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders, she set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said: “I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you … that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry —”
With an increasingly declining health during his last years, Brando died in 2004 of respiratory failure from pulmonary fibrosis with congestive heart failure at the UCLA Medical Center, aged 80. Today his legend, influence and cultural impact remains more alive than ever.
Watch a famous scene of Marlon Brando in the iconic role of motorcycle gang leader Johnny fighting his rival Chino, played by Lee Marvin, in 1951’s The Wild One
Watch a clip of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951, his breakthrough role
Also watch, Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, a role for which he received an Academy Award that he declined
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