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People Top 5
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- July 22, 2002
- Vol. 58
- No. 4
When a Role Called for Gutsy Power, Rod Steiger Was a Sure Contender
The ladies got one less hunk, but Hollywood gained the Legend, as his friend Pierce Brosnan always called him. Steiger, who died at 77 on July 9 following surgery for an intestinal tumor, was powerful in role after role: a corrupt lawyer in 1954's On the Waterfront, for which he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar; a bigoted sheriff in '67's In the Heat of the Night, which brought a Best Actor Oscar; a jealous farmhand (Oklahoma!); a Russian cad (Doctor Zhivago).
He vanished from movies in the '80s, crippled by a depression that led to three suicide attempts before he was treated with medication. "I have experienced the pain...the embarrassment," he said in 1994. That shared suffering was the basis for his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, who was housebound by the illness in the 1990s. "I will miss his gruff tenderness and humor," Taylor says.
In his last few years Steiger—whose four previous wives included actress Claire Bloom—at last succeeded as a romantic lead. He wed actress Joan Benedict, 60, in 2000. "Every day he bought me roses—a huge bouquet," says Benedict. "He was so grateful he had finally found happiness."
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