THE BIST YEARS OF DANA ANDREWS'S life came nearly hall a century ago. In 1944, then a B-movie player, he starred opposite Gene Tierney as the hard-boiled but haunted detective in the classic mystery Laura. Square-jawed and deep-voiced, Andrews quickly became an American archetype, a role he reprised two years later as a troubled veteran in The Best Years of Our Lives. "He was intelligent, tough but tender," says Laura costar Vincent Price, "all the qualities of a leading man." Andrews was, in fact, a perfect postwar hero—the conqueror with a conscience.

It didn't last. By the time of his death from heart failure and pneumonia on Dec. 17 in Los Alamitos, Calif., Dana Andrews, 83, was a name from the past. From the '50s onward, he seldom worked onscreen, though he did a three-year stint on NBCs soap Bright Promise, stalling in 1969. His problem was not his talent but his alcoholism. "No one ever said anything to me about my drinking," Andrews once remarked. "But word gets around, and the pictures dried up."

Carver Dana Andrews was born in Collins, Miss., one of 13 children of Rev. Charles Forrest Andrews and his wife, Annis. Dana, says his brother, actor Steve Forrest, 67, inherited his preacher father's "exhibitionistic flair" and at the age of 22 made his way to Hollywood. While breaking into show business, he met actress Mary Todd, who became his second wife in 1939. They had three children: Katharine, now 50, Stephen, 48, and Susan, 45.

As Andrews's career waned, the marriage faltered. In 1968, Mary left him, saying she wouldn't come back unless he quit drinking. He did, and by the early '70s, Andrews was a spokesman for alcoholism treatment, From 1989 until his death, he lived at the John Douglas French Center in Los Alamitos, where he was treated for multi-infarct dementia, a condition akin to Alzheimer's disease. Even there, however, he remained Dana Andrews. Says Mary: "People would make a fuss over him and ask for his autograph."