06/13/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
For the last 10 years of his life, actor Eddie Albert suffered from Alzheimer's disease. But the veteran of more than 200 films and TV shows—he got an Oscar nomination as Gregory Peck's wisecracking pal in 1953's Roman Holiday, played the sadistic warden in the original 1974 The Longest Yard and, most memorably, starred as amiable lawyer-turned-farmer Oliver Wendell Douglas in the '60s sitcom Green Acres—never lost his youthful spirit. "A month ago he was shooting hoops from his wheelchair and still doing push-ups," says his son Edward Albert, who put his own acting career on the back burner to care for his father. After a recent bout with the flu, however, the man his son called "the old lion"—he was 99—died May 26 of pneumonia at his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home.
Raised in Minneapolis, Albert got his break in Hollywood in 1938 with the movie Brother Rat, then joined the Navy in World War II, earning a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded Marines in the 1943 battle of Tarawa. After the war he married the Mexican-born actress Margo, with whom he had Edward and a daughter, Maria, and resumed his acting career. Yet, says his son, "acting was really only a tenth of his life." An outspoken environmentalist, Albert lobbied in the '70s to ban DDT. He used his Green Acres fame to champion real-life farmers hit by economic hard times. "Even up till the end his intellect was intact," says Edward. "After he got Alzheimer's he took up singing. He said he was getting ready for his next life."