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Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson (1973)
Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky
November 3, 1921(1921-11-03)
Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died August 30, 2003 (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949–1999
Spouse(s) Harriet Tendler (1949–1967) (divorced) 2 children
Jill Ireland (1968–1990) (her death) 1 daughter
Kim Weeks (1998–2003) (his death)

Charles Bronson (November 3, 1921 – August 30, 2003) was an American actor best known for his "tough guy" image, who starred in such classic films as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Evil That Men Do and the popular Death Wish series. He was most often cast in the role of a police officer or gunfighter, often in revenge plot lines.

Bronson's first film role was as a Polish sailor in You're in the Navy Now in 1951, he also made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s. Bronson was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in a TV episode with the title "Memory in White." In the 1970s he became one of the top ten box-office stars. He made films in many genres including crime, western and others.

Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death. His health deteriorated in later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 1998. Bronson also suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years.



Early life and World War II service

Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky (some sources note that he was born as Karolis Bučinskis[1], Casimir Businskis[2][3]) in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh Tri-State area.

He was one of 14 children born to a Lithuanian[4][5] immigrant father of Lipka Tatar ancestry[3] and a Lithuanian mother.[6][7][8][9] His father[4][10] was from the town of Druskininkai.[1]

Bronson was the first member of his family to graduate from high school.[4] As a young child Bronson did not speak English and learned it later as a foreign language.[5] Bronson's father died when Bronson was only 10, and he went to work in the coal mines. Initially Bronson worked in the office of a coal mine, later in the mine itself.[4] He worked there until he entered military service during World War II.[4] He earned $1 per ton of coal mined. His family was so poor that, at one time, he reportedly had to wear his sister's dress to school because he had nothing else to wear.[11][12]

In 1943, Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aerial gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.[13]

Acting career

Early roles, 1951–1959

Bronson's first film role — an uncredited one — was as a sailor in You're in the Navy Now in 1951. Other early screen appearances were in Pat and Mike, Miss Sadie Thompson and House of Wax (as Vincent Price's henchman Igor). In 1952, Bronson boxed in a ring with Roy Rogers in Rogers' show Knockout. He also appeared on the "Red Skelton Show" as a boxer in a skit with Red as his character of "Cauliflower" McPugg.

In 1954, he made a strong impact in Drumbeat supporting Alan Ladd. He played a murderous Apache warrior, Captain Jack, who enjoys wearing the tunics of soldiers whom he has killed. Eventually captured by Ladd and sent to the gallows, Jack dies as he has always lived, fearlessly.

In 1954, during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) proceedings, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson as Eastern European names sounded suspicious in an era of anti-Soviet sentiment. He took his inspiration from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios, situated on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street.

Bronson made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including the lead role of the episode "The Apache Kid" of the syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise. He also starred in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska (1956), There Was an Old Woman (1956), and The Woman Who Wanted to Live (1962). He starred alongside Elizabeth Montgomery in The Twilight Zone episode "Two" (1961) and played a killer named Crego in Gunsmoke (1956).

Many of his filmographies incorrectly state that he appeared in the 1958 Gary Cooper film Ten North Frederick, which was not the case.

In 1958 he was cast in his first lead role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, a low-budget, though well received, gangster film.

Bronson also scored the lead in his own ABC's detective series Man with a Camera (from 1958 to 1960), in which he portrayed Mike Kovac, a former combat photographer freelancing in New York City. Frequently, Kovac was involved in dangerous assignments for the New York Police Department.

Success, 1960–1968

Charles Bronson gained attention in 1960 with his role in John Sturges' western The Magnificent Seven, where he played one of seven gunfighters taking up the cause of the defenseless, which was based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. During filming of this movie, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself, according to Eli Wallach .[14] He received $50000 for this role.[15] This role also made him a favorite actor of many Soviet people, among them Vladimir Vysotsky.[16][17] Two years later, Sturges cast him for another popular Hollywood production The Great Escape as a claustrophobic Polish prisoner of war nicknamed "The Tunnel King" (coincidentally, Bronson was really claustrophobic because of his childhood work in a mine).

In 1961 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in a TV episode with the title Memory in White.[18]

1962 saw Bronson in the role of Lew Nyack, a veteran boxing trainer who helped Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) polish his skills for the big fight with Sugarboy Romero in the movie, Kid Galahad (a remake of a 1937 film with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in those roles).

In the first half of 1963, Bronson co-starred with Richard Egan in the NBC Western series Empire, set on a New Mexico ranch. In the 1963–1964 season he portrayed Linc, the stubborn wagonmaster in the ABC series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, where he starred together with Dan O'Herlihy and then twelve-year-old Kurt Russell. In the 1965-1966 season, he guest starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James, starring Christopher Jones in the title role.

In The Dirty Dozen (1967) Bronson played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission.

European roles, 1968–1973

Although he began his career in the United States, Bronson first made a serious name for himself in European films. He became quite famous on that continent, and was known by two nicknames: The Italians called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly One") and to the French he was known as a "monstre sacré" ("holy monster").

In 1968 he starred as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. The director, Sergio Leone, once called him "the greatest actor I ever worked with", and had wanted to cast Bronson for the lead in all three of his previous westerns, now known as the Dollars trilogy. Bronson turned him down each time and the roles instead launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom.

Even though he was not yet a headliner in America in 1970, he helped the French film Rider on the Rain win a Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The following year, this overseas fame earned him a special Golden Globe Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite - Male" together with Sean Connery. This was the most prestigious of the few awards he ever received. At the time, the actor wondered if he was "too masculine" to ever become a star in the United States.[citation needed]

Death Wish series, 1974–1994

Bronson at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival
Bronson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

One of Bronson's most memorable roles came when he was over the age of 50, in Death Wish (1974), the most popular film of his long association with director Michael Winner. He played Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect. When his wife (played by Hope Lange) is murdered and his daughter sexually assaulted, Kersey becomes a crime-fighting vigilante by night. It was a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences. After the famous 1984 case of Bernhard Goetz, Bronson recommended that people not imitate his character. This successful movie spawned sequels over the next 20 years, in which Bronson also starred. His great nephew, [Justin Bronson], was scheduled to star in a remake of Death Wish in 2008, but the film has not yet seen the light of day.

In 1974 he starred in the film adaptation of the Elmore Leonard hard-boiled gangster-meets-his-match in a farmer saga, Mr. Majestyk. For Walter Hill's Hard Times (1975), he starred as a Depression-era street fighter making his living in illegal bare-knuckled matches in Louisiana, earning good reviews.

Charles Bronson's highest box-office was 4th in 1975, beaten only by Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Al Pacino.[19]

He was considered to play the role of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), but director John Carpenter thought he was too tough looking and too old for the part, and decided to cast Kurt Russell instead. In the years between 1976 and 1994, Bronson commanded high salaries to star in numerous films made by smaller production companies, most notably Cannon Films. Many of them were directed by J. Lee Thompson, a collaborative relationship that Bronson enjoyed and actively pursued, reportedly because Thompson worked quickly and efficiently. Thompson's ultra-violent films such as The Evil That Men Do and 10 To Midnight were blasted by critics, but provided Bronson with well-paid work throughout the '80s. Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death.

Charles Bronson became very popular in Japan in the early 1990s with the bushy eyebrowed TV critic Nagaharu Yodogawa ("Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara!") hosting 1-2 seasons of his films every year on NTV, one of the main TV channels in Japan.

Personal life

His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met when both were fledgling actors in Philadelphia. They had two children before divorcing.

Bronson was married to British actress Jill Ireland from October 5, 1968 [20] until her death from breast cancer at age 54 in 1990. He had met her when she was married to Scottish actor David McCallum. At the time, Bronson (who shared the screen with McCallum in The Great Escape) reportedly told him, "I'm going to marry your wife." Two years later, Bronson did just that. The Bronsons lived in a grand Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles with seven children: two by his previous marriage, three by hers (one of whom was adopted) and two of their own (another one of whom was adopted). They also spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres in West Windsor, Vermont.[21]


On September 1st , 2003 Bronson died of pneumonia while suffering from Alzheimer's disease at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At the time of his death he had been hospitalized for a month. He had been in poor health since undergoing hip replacement surgery in August 1998. He is buried in Brownsville, Vermont, near his home of thirty years in West Windsor.

Legacy in pop culture

  • Michael Gordon Peterson, a notorious British criminal, former circus strongman and bareknuckle boxer (famously referred to as "Britain's most dangerous prison inmate") changed his name to Charles Bronson to be more in line with a "tough guy" image. His boxing promoter made this change in 1987.[22]
  • He was among the many considered for the lead role in The French Connection (1971) which later went to Gene Hackman.
  • Avco-Embassy Pictures, the financial backer for John Carpenter's Escape From New York, preferred either Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones to play the role of "Snake" Plissken to Carpenter's choice of Kurt Russell. Carpenter thought Bronson was too tough looking to play Plisken.
  • He was considered and read for the part of the eponymous hero of Superman (1978), which later went to Christopher Reeve.
  • He turned down the part of Billy Madison's father in Billy Madison (1995).
  • Major League Baseball pitcher Bronson Arroyo (born 1977) is named after him.
  • The Canadian speed/thrash metal band Razor dedicated their 1988 album Violent Restitution to Bronson.
  • The hardcore band Charles Bronson sampled many clips from a variety of Charles Bronson movies.
  • The punk rock band NOFX refers to him in the album punk in drublic, in the song called punk guy
  • The "charles bronson" (or "bronson") has become popular in Scotland as a slang term for cocaine. The origin may derive from cocaine previously being referred to as "Charley". "Bronson Juice" or "Bronson" is also used as a slang term for beer, especially cheap beer, in American Fraternities.
  • The Simpsons episode "The Old Man and the Key" pays homage to him in the form of a town called Bronson, Missouri, in which everyone looks and speaks like him. Another episode has him replacing Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, the drastic change from Griffith's lovable persona to Bronson's more macho style being quite evident when he claims to have shot Ernest T. Bass and be going down to Emmit's Fix-It Shop to "fix Emmit". Furthermore, the voice of the recurring, nameless Simpsons character, dubbed Wiseguy for his sarcastic remarks, is based on Hank Azaria's impression of Charles Bronson. In another Simpsons episode which features Jay Sherman (from The Critic) there is a mock preview at the beginning of an episode for Death Wish 9, in which Bronson lies in a hospital bed and says "I wish I was dead, oy."
  • Roger disguises himself as Charles Bronson in the American Dad! episode "The One That Got Away". He also makes a reference to the film Death Wish.
  • In The Comic Strip film GLC: The Carnage Continues..., Robbie Coltrane plays Bronson in a parody of Hollywood films of the time, in which Bronson is playing the role of Ken Livingstone.
  • In the game No More Heroes, the character Dr. Peace is modeled after Bronson, as stated by the game's creator, Suda51.
  • In the Movie The Boondock Saints, the McManus brothers fight about using a rope in their vigilante killings because Charlie Bronson used a rope
  • He is referenced at least twice in the Movie Reservoir Dogs, first when Quentin Tarantino's character is talking about Madonna's "Like A Virgin" and second when Harvey Keitel is talking about robbing a jewellery store.
  • In the song "Body Count" performed by rapper X-Raided with the line: "Fool, I aint the one and fuck a Eastwood, I'm Charles "X-Raided Loc" Bronson, He is your "Death Wish".
  • In the Tarantino-written 'True Romance', the character of Drexyl Spivey (played by Gary Oldman) says, regarding Christian Slater's Clarence Worley; "Y'know what we got here? Motherfuckin' Charlie Bronson. Mr. Majestyk."
  • In Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner", Amir, the protagonist of the novel, and Hassan, his servant and half brother can be seen watching The Magnificent Seven repeatedly in Afghanistan and idolizing Charles Bronson.
  • In a dream sequence with Rocco in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day the McManus brothers mention Charlie Bronson and Rocco mention "The Duke", John Wayne.

Complete filmography

Films made for television

  • This Rugged Land (1962)
  • Guns of Diablo (1964)
  • Luke and The Tenderfoot (1965)
  • The Meanest Men in the West (1967)
  • The Bull of the West (1971)
  • Raid On Entebbe (1976)
  • Act of Vengeance (1985)
  • Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991)
  • Donato and Daughter (1993)
  • The Sea Wolf (1993)
  • A Family of Cops (1995)
  • Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops 2 (1997)
  • Family of Cops 3 (1999)

See also


  1. ^ a b Dumbliauskas, Petras. "Charlesas Bronsonas išeina" (in Lithuanian). Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  2. ^ Lehman, Jeffrey (2000). Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America (2vol). Thomson Gale. pp. 1147. ISBN 0787639869. 
  3. ^ a b Bratkowski, Stefan, "Najkrotsza Historia Polski" (The Shortest History of Poland), KAW, Warsaw, 1999, p. 9.
  4. ^ a b c d e Michael, Pitts (1999). Charles Bronson. McFarland. p. 1. ISBN 0786406011. 
  5. ^ a b Aaker, Everet (2006). Encyclopedia of early television crime fighters: all regular cast members in American crime and mystery series, 1948-1959. McFarland. pp. 80. ISBN 0786424761. 
  6. ^ "Charles Bronson, Actor". Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  7. ^ "Hollywood star Bronson dies". September 1, 2003. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  8. ^ "Action film star Charles Bronson dead at 81". 2003-08-31. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  9. ^ "US movie legend Bronson is dead". 2003. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Richard Severo (September 1, 2003). "Charles Bronson, 81, Dies; Muscular Movie Tough Guy". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  12. ^ The dress story has been repeated in Celebrity Setbacks: 800 Stars who Overcame the Odds by Ed Lucaire (ISBN 0-671-85031-8) and in an edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not!.
  13. ^ "Corrections". September 18, 2003. 
  14. ^ American Legends Exclusive interview with Eli Wallach
  15. ^ Howard Hughes "Stagecoach to tombstone: the filmgoers' guide to the great westerns". Published by: I.B.Tauris, 2008 - 274 p. ISBN 1845115716, 9781845115715 (P.125)
  16. ^ Владимир Иванович Новиков/V.I. Novikov "Высоцкий/Vysotskiĭ". Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2002 - 412 с. ISBN 5235025415, 9785235025417 (С.327)
  17. ^ (Russian)"Живая жизнь/Živaja žiznʹ : štrichi k biografii Vladimira Vysockogo". Moscow: "Московский рабочий/Moskovskij rabočij", т. 1 - 1988 - 316 c. ISBN 5239004838 9785239004838 (C.217)
  18. ^ An episode of the General Electric Theater anthology series.
  19. ^ Hughes, Howard (2006). rime wave: the filmgoers' guide to the great crime movies. I.B.Tauris. pp. xx. ISBN 1845112199. 
  20. ^ Charles Bronson Documentary, Biography Channel
  21. ^ "Action film star Charles Bronson dead at 81". Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  22. ^ "About Charles Bronson". United Kingdom: Retrieved 2008-12-02. "Born Michael Peterson, his name was changed by his fight promoter in 1987. It had nothing to do with the actor Charles Bronson's film Death Wish as is usually reported in the newspapers." 

External links

Simple English

Charles Bronson.

Charles Bronson (1921-2003) was an American actor. He was a Purple Heart receptiant.

He was born in Ehrenfeld. Bronson was married to Jill Ireland (His second marriage) (1968–1990) until her death from breast cancer. He died of pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. He is Tatar origin. He died in L.A. He played in the Death Wish series of films. He was 5'9". He was 81 years old when he passed away. His real full name was Charles Dennis Buchinsky.


  • House of Wax (1953)
  • Never So Few (1959)
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960)
  • The Great Escape (1963)
  • The Dirty Dozen (1967)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Chato's Land (1972)
  • The Evil That Men Do (1984)

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