Marlon Brando – seen by some as the greatest movie actor of the last half century, and by nearly everyone as a defiant public figure who embraced causes with intense passion and as a steadfastly private man whose romantic escapades and personal tragedies made headlines nonetheless – died Thursday at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Los Angeles of lung failure at the age of 80.
Born in Omaha in 1924, the young Bud Brando went to New York after being expelled from high school. He soon began working with the great acting teacher Stella Adler, and barely a year later he was on Broadway. In a forgettable drama called Truckline Cafe, Brando hooked up with its producer, Elia Kazan, who cast him in the role that made Brando's career, in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Hollywood called, and Brando made his screen debut in 1950's The Men. Starting with the 1951 film version of Streetcar, he enjoyed an unprecedented string of four consecutive Oscar-nominated performances. After Streetcar came Viva Zapata!,1953's Julius Caesar, and On the Waterfront (1954); for the latter Brando won a Best Actor Oscar. "If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America," said director Kazan, "I don't know what it is."