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George C. Scott as "Patton"
Actor George C. Scott Dies At Age 71
By Arthur Spiegelman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor George C. Scott, famed for powerful portrayals of driven men on the brink of exploding and for refusing his profession's highest honor -- a best-actor Oscar -- for his role as Gen. George Patton, has died at age 71, a coroner's spokesman said Thursday.
The spokesman for the Ventura County Coroner's office said the gravelly voiced actor died from a rupture of a major blood vessel in his stomach Wednesday at his home in Westlake Village, 40 miles west of Los Angeles. He lived alone and his body was found by a friend.
Reaching Broadway as an actor at age 30 after deciding that he would never make it as a journalist or writer, his first choices for a career, Scott staked out a unique role on the stage and screen -- that of the most powerful performer of his generation.
His early film presence was so volcanic that film expert David Thomson, author of "A Biographical Dictionary of Film,'' said other actors might have feared being on the same stage with him "in the way champions do not want to get in the ring with hungry challengers.''
After stunning performances in such films as The Hustler, in which he played the incarnation of evil as the manager out to destroy pool hustler Paul Newman, and as a trigger-happy general in Stanley Kubrick's black comedy Dr. Strangelove, Scott found his most famous role in the 1970 film Patton.
He played the strutting, megalomaniacal World War II Army general George S. Patton with a swagger and force that critics said was seldom equaled on screen. The role had been turned down by several actors, including Rod Steiger and Lee Marvin.
President Richard Nixon fell in love with the movie and Scott's performance and he was reported to have watched it over and over again in the White House because it invoked a feeling of lost patriotism in the midst of the Vietnam War.
When Scott was named best actor for "Patton'' at the 1971 Oscars ceremony, he was at home in his New York State farm watching ice hockey. He described the ceremony as a "two-hour meat parade'' and condemned the Oscars in general as "offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt.''
In later years, after his career had declined partly due to bouts of heavy drinking and poor choices of roles, Scott insisted that his then unprecedented gesture had been misunderstood.
"I did not decline the Academy Award. I declined the nomination and there's a helleuva big difference ... I had been nominated before, and was hurt that I didn't win and I said to myself, 'That's never going to happen again.' I'm never going to want anything like that again,'' he said in a 1993 interview on the American Movie Classics channel.
After he turned down the Oscar, his wife at the time, Colleen Dewhurst, said, "George had to do what he did about the Academy Awards ... that's the way he feels. But, me? I'd like to win an award.''
Film critic Leonard Maltin said it was Scott's measured forcefulness that set him apart as an actor. "He had an incredible intensity that never really seemed over the top. His explosions were always controlled explosions. He had a great reserve of power to draw upon,'' Maltin said.
Despite a decline in Scott's film career in the 1970s, Maltin said, "You can't say he didn't reach his potential because he did such great work on so many occasions. When you consider Anatomy of a Murder, ``Dr. Strangelove,'' "The Hustler,'' and of course, ``Patton,'' that would be enough to put on anybody's final resume.''
Maltin added, ``After 'Patton,' it seemed it was tougher to find or get roles that were worthy of that talent. And I think he had a lot of personal demons that got in the way.''
Actor Jack Lemmon, who co-starred with Scott in the 1997 TV remake of 12 Angry Men and in the 1999 adaptation of Inherit the Wind, Scott's last TV performance, called him ''truly one of the greatest and most generous actors I have ever known.''
Actress Piper Laurie, who appeared with Scott in "Inherit the Wind'' and the 1961 film "The Hustler,'' said, "It's a great loss for all of us. He was a superb man and a great actor.''
Born George Campbell Scott in Wise, Virginia, on Oct. 18, 1927, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 1945. His acting career started slowly and stormily. For seven years he toured with small companies and went through two failed marriages, more bar brawls than he cared to remember and five broken noses.
He made his film debut in 1959, starring in The Hanging Tree, and followed that up as a ferocious prosecutor with ''Anatomy of a Murder'' that same year. Scott received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor in 1962 for "The Hustler,'' and for Best Actor in 1972 for The Hospital.
A year after refusing his "Patton" Oscar, Scott won an Emmy for Arthur Miller's The Price and refused that as well.
Scott was married five times, twice to Dewhurst, with whom he had two of his six children. The couple married in 1960 and divorced five years later only to remarry in 1967. The second marriage ended in divorce five years later. © 1999 Variety
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