Actor Richard Widmark dies at 93

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UPDATED 11:43 a.m. PT March 26


Richard Widmark, who won a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his first movie role in the 1947 gangster film "Kiss of Death," has died. He was 93.

Widmark's wife, Susan Blanchard, said the actor died Monday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. She would not provide details of his illness and said funeral arrangements are private.

Widmark, who often played heavies, received his Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a laughing psychopathic murderer who pushed a crippled old woman down a flight of stairs. Usually associated with villainous roles, he played another heavy in the film noir "Road House" the following year. Yet he made his mark as the cynical hero of Samuel Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" in 1953. His gritty persona also suited him well for Westerns, playing in such John Ford Westerns as "Two Rode Together" and "Cheyenne Autumn." He played the title role in the New York cop story, "Madigan" (1968) for director Don Siegel. Throughout his career, Widmark was especially gifted in showing the psychological cracks and ticks of otherwise solid authority figures.

Widmark was born on Dec. 26, 1914, in Sunrise, Minn., and grew up in Princeton, Ill. He attended Lake Forest College, north of Chicago, where he first took an interest in acting. After he graduated in 1938, Widmark taught acting at the college. Subsequently, he landed a radio job in New York on a show titled "Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories" and made his Broadway stage debut five years later in "Kiss and Tell" (1943). Because of a perforated eardrum, Widmark did not serve in World War II.

Four years later in 1947, he got his big movie break when he was cast as the psychotic Tommy Udo in "Death." He then signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. His early films included performances in a number of bad-guy roles in such fare as "Road House" (1948) with Ida Lupino and Cornel Wilde. He was particularly chilling as a nasty racist in "No Way Out" (1950), constantly goading a young intern played by Sidney Poitier.

Widmark was at his best with characters that had a steely edge. He played a range of these types in a number of genres, including the war story "Halls of Montezuma," the romantic comedy "Tunnel of Love" and the Westerns "Yellow Sky" and "Broken Lance."

During the late 1950s, he began to produce films under his own banner, Heath Prods. The first of his movies was "Time Limit" in 1957, a courtroom drama. He subsequently produced a spy thriller, "The Secret Ways" (1961), which was scripted by his wife, Jean Hazelwood. During that period, Widmark also performed in "Judgment at Nuremeberg" (1961) and "The Bedford Incident" (1965).

Although his career ebbed in the early '70s, he starred in the TV series "Madigan," 1972-73, based on the highly regarded movie in which he starred. Widmark continued to garner solid screen roles in such big movies as "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974), "Rollercoaster" (1977) and "Coma." He also was featured in the Jeff Bridges starrer "Against All Odds," directed by Taylor Hackford.

In later years, Widmark appeared sparingly in films and TV. He explained to Parade magazine in 1987: "I've discovered in my dotage that I now find the whole moviemaking process irritating. I don't have the patience anymore. I've got a few more years to live, and I don't want to spend them sitting around a movie set for 12 hours to do two minutes of film."

When he wasn't working, he and his wife lived on a horse ranch in Hidden Valley, Calif., or on a farm in Connecticut. Their daughter Ann became the wife of baseball immortal Sandy Koufax.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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