"The older he got, the more he attached to the accoutrements of that new life," Curtis, 51, tells PEOPLE in a statement. "And although he looked, smelled, dressed, traveled and ate different than his old friends, they knew that somewhere under his glow and fancy cars lurked Bernie Schwartz – and they loved him for it."
The actress, who for many years had been estranged from her father before they eventually reconciled, said her father's place in the limelight had affected their relationship.
"His personal failings and public successes have been well documented, and my relationship with him, although nonexistent for much of my life, in the end was good and based on mutual respect rather than any father and daughter model," she says. "He adored his wife, and she [adored] him."
Remembered His RootsCurtis said her father, 85, whose death in his Las Vegas home Wednesday was caused by cardiac arrest, had been a longtime fixture on the Hollywood scene, as the son of a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant tailor.
"The nicest thing from the 500 emails and countless phone calls and texts and shouts of condolence from people passing me on the street as I walked today was the idea that for a generation of young Jewish people, he truly 'represented' his tribe," she said, "and so in turn, his success was theirs."
She also fondly remembers her father as a successful screen star, whose filmography includes such well-regarded dramas as Sweet Smell of Success and the timeless drag comedy Some Like It Hot – and how well he treated his fans.
"He enjoyed being in a group of strangers and always asked where someone was from and loved signing autographs," she says. "His representation that dreams could come true moved me today more than any personal loss. I'm proud to be his daughter."
Reporting by JOHNNY DODD