Oscar Winner Jack Palance Dies


"City Slickers" actor Jack Palance, known for his menacing demeanor, staccato speech, rugged good looks and one-handed push-ups, has died at the age of 87.

The Oscar winner died of natural causes in his Montecito, Calif., home with his family close at hand, report news sources.

The beloved actor was born Vladimir Palahnuik -- later calling himself Walter Jack Palance to avoid being teased -- to Ukranian immigrants on February 18, 1919, in Hazle Township, Penn. As the son of a coal miner, Palance also worked in the mines as a youth, then moved on to become a professional boxer in the late '30s under yet another name: Jack Brazzo.

His military career began with the outbreak of World War II, which eventually required that he have facial reconstruction after his B-24 bomber crashed, forcing him to bail out of the burning plane. When he was discharged in 1944, he began his studies, and three years later had an AB in drama from Stanford University.

The story goes that during his fledgling career, he was acting as the understudy to Marlon Brando in the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." One day, when the two were working out with a punching bag, he accidentally planted Brando a facer, allowing Palance to take to the stage that night. From that performance, he landed a contract with 20th Century Fox and moved to his first film, "Panic in the Streets" (1950). By his third film, "Sudden Fear," Palance received his first Oscar nomination for playing Lester Blaine, a man bent on winning a role in a play at any cost.

For the 1953 classic "Shane," he received yet another nomination for playing the cold-blooded gunfighter Jack Wilson. This would be the beginning of a string of other Western roles in films such as "Arrowhead," "The Lonely Man," "The Professionals," "The Desperadoes," "Diamante Lobo" and "Young Guns."

The "City Slickers" films allowed him to spoof these earlier roles. In the films, he played the intimidating cattle driver Curly at a dude ranch that welcomed urban vacationers played by Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby. In 1992, he made one of the most infamous Oscar acceptance speeches for this supporting role by doing-one armed push-ups to show his strength.

"That's nothing, really," he said. "As far as two-handed push-ups, you can do that all night, and it doesn't make a difference whether she's there or not."

His other films include the noir classic "I Died a Thousand Times," "Sign of the Pagan" as Attila the Hun, the spaghetti western "Companeroes," "Che!" as Fidel Castro, Jean-Luc Godard's "Contempt," Tim Burton's "Batman" and the cop action-comedy "Tango & Cash."

He also made his mark in television, winning a best actor Emmy for his role in the "Playhouse 90" performance of Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight," hosting "Ripley's Believe It or Not," and appearing on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "The Hatfields and the McCoys," "Bronk," "Buck Rodgers" and in the TV movies "Buffalo Girls," "Ebenezer," "Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End," "Living With the Dead" and "Back When We Were Grownups." On one guest appearance on "The Hollywood Squares," he famously fell asleep and began storing in his square.

He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

He also painted landscape art, wrote poetry and and published the book of poems "The Forest of Love" in 1996.

He was first married to Virginia Baker, with whom he had three children: Holly, Brooke and Cody, who died in 1998 from malignant melanoma. Palance married his second wife, Elaine Rogers in 1987.

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