Charles Bronson (November 3, 1921 - August 30, 2003) was an American actor of "tough guy" roles. In most of his roles he starred as a brutal police detective, a western gunfighter, or a mafia hitman. He was blunt, physically powerful, and had a look of danger that fit such roles.
He was born as Charles Dennis Buchinsky in the notorious Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania neighborhood of Scooptown, the 11th of 15 children of Lithuanian immigrants. His family was so poor that at one time he was forced to wear his sister's dress to school because he had no other clothes.
In 1943, Bronson was drafted into the Air Force and served as a tail gunner onboard B29 bombers.
After the war, he decided to pursue the profession of acting, not from any love of the subject, but rather because he was impressed with the amount of money that he could potentially make in the business. During the McCarthy hearings he changed his last name to Bronson as Russian-sounding names were suspect. One of his earliest screen appearances under his new name was as Vincent Price's henchman in the 1953 horror classic House Of Wax. In 1961 Bronson made an appearance in The Twilight Zone, in the episode "Two".
Although he began his career in America, Bronson first made a serious name for himself acting in European films. He became quite famous on that continent, and was known by two interesting nicknames: The Italians called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly") and to the French he was known as "le sacre monstre," the "sacred monster." Even though he was not yet a headliner in America, his overseas fame earned him a 1971 Golden Globe as the "Most Popular Actor in the World." That same year, he wondered if he was "too masculine" to ever become a star in the US.
Bronson's most famous films include The Great Escape, in which he played Danny Velinski nicknamed "The Tunnel King", a Polish prisoner of war, The Dirty Dozen, in which he played a death row convict conscripted into a World War II suicide mission. In the westerns The Magnificent Seven and the epic Once Upon a Time in the West, he played heroic gunfighters, taking up the cause of the defenseless.
He is also remembered for the Death Wish series, in which he played a man who was a liberal New York architect until his wife was murdered and daughter raped. He became a crime-fighting vigilante by night, a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences. After the famous case of Bernhard Goetz, the actor recommended that people not imitate his character.
Bronson was married to actress Jill Ireland from 1968 until her death in 1990. She was his second wife. He met her when she was still married to actor David McCallum. At the time, Bronson bluntly told McCallum: "I'm going to marry your wife." Two years later, he made good on his boast and married Jill.
Bronson died of pneumonia while suffering from Alzheimer's disease at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, California. He is survived by his wife Kim, 4 children, 2 stepchildren & 2 grandchildren. A stepson, Jason McCallum Bronson, preceded him in death after succumbing to a drug overdose in 1989.