Charles Bronson (November 3, 1921 - August 30, 2003) was an American actor of "tough guy" roles. In most of his roles he starred as a brutal police detective, a western gunfighter, or a mafia hitman. He was blunt, physically powerful, and had a look of danger that fit such roles.
He was born as Charles Dennis Buchinski in the notorious Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania neighborhood of Scooptown, the 11th of 15 children of Lithuanian and Polish immigrants. His family was so poor that at one time he was forced to wear his sister's dress to school because he had no other clothes.
After the war, he decided to pursue the profession of acting, not from any love of the subject, but rather because he was impressed with the amount of money that he could potentially make in the business. During the McCarthy hearings he changed his last name to Bronson as Russian-sounding names were suspect even though Buchinski is really spelled Buchinski and is more Polish then Russian. (Bronson is in fact half Polish). Lithuanian was a name for people living in that regin of Poland). One of his earliest screen appearances under his new name was as Vincent Price's henchman in 1953 horror classic House Of Wax . In 1961 Bronson made an appearance with Elizabeth Montgomery in The Twilight Zone, in the episode "Two".
Although he began his career in America, Bronson first made a serious name for himself acting in European films. He became quite famous on that continent, and was known by two interesting nicknames: The Italians called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly") and to the French he was known as "le sacre monstre," the "sacred monster." Even though he was not yet a headliner in America, his overseas fame earned him a 1971 Golden Globe as the "Most Popular Actor in the World." That same year, he wondered if he was "too masculine" to ever become a star in the US.
Bronson's most famous films include The Great Escape, (1963) in which he played Danny Welinski, nicknamed "The Tunnel King", a Polish prisoner of war, The Dirty Dozen, (1967) in which he played an Army death row convict conscripted into a World War II suicide mission. In the westerns The Magnificent Seven (1960) and the epic Once Upon a Time in the West, (1968) he played heroic gunfighters, taking up the cause of the defenseless.
He is also remembered for Death Wish (1974) which spawned several sequels, In Death Wish he played a Paul Kersey, a prosperous liberal New York architect until his wife was murdered and daughter raped. He became a crime-fighting vigilante by night, a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences. After the famous 1983 case of Bernhard Goetz, the actor recommended that people not imitate his character.
Bronson was married to actress Jill Ireland from 1968 until her death in 1990. She was his second wife. He met her when she was still married to actor David McCallum. At the time, Bronson (who shared the screen with McCallum in The Great Escape) bluntly told McCallum: "I'm going to marry your wife." Two years later, he made good on his boast and married Jill.
Bronson died of pneumonia while suffering from Alzheimer's disease at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, California. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife Kim, four children, two stepchildren and two grandchildren. A stepson, Jason McCallum Bronson , preceded him in death after succumbing to a drug overdose in 1989.
- The IMDb entry on Charles Bronson