Woody Strode; Ex-Athlete, Character Actor in Movies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Woody Strode, the square-jawed, muscular former UCLA athlete who became a character actor with supporting roles in films for nearly a half century, has died.

Strode died in his sleep at Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora on New Year's Eve, said his son, Kalai. He was 80.

He had been diagnosed as having lung cancer a year ago, but the exact cause of his death had not been confirmed.

Strode, the son of a brick mason, was born Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode in Los Angeles and grew up in the shadow of the Coliseum, according to his son. He attended UCLA, where he played football with Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington.

He was playing football for the old Hollywood Bears when World War II broke out and he followed his coach into the Army Air Corps, where he resumed playing the sport.

After seeing service in the Pacific, Strode returned to Los Angeles, where he and Washington later played for the Rams in the team's first season in the city.

As a condition for letting the Rams play at the Coliseum, local officials insisted that the team sign Washington, a quarterback--and Washington would not play unless the Rams took Strode as well, his son said.

Times sports columnist Jim Murray once wrote that Strode could have been a great end, had that position--for which he was physically suited--been as valued in the 1940s as it is today.

In addition to football, Strode excelled in so many track and field disciplines that he became a decathlete.

But Hollywood "lured Wood off the playing fields and away from his place in (sports) history," Murray wrote in 1991.

Actually, Strode became a professional wrestler before he began to land small muscleman parts and such roles as the lion in "Androcles and the Lion" and a gladiator in "Demetrius and the Gladiators."

In 1960, he landed the role of a soldier on trial for murder and rape in "Sergeant Rutledge," one of his best-known performances.

Strode also made several films with John Wayne, including "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." He also appeared in "The Ten Commandments," "Pork Chop Hill" and "The Professionals."

In "Spartacus," Strode engaged in one of the most famous movie fights ever, facing off with Kirk Douglas.

In the 1970s, he went to Europe and made movies there.

His last American film, according to his son, was the upcoming "The Quick and the Dead" starring Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman.

Strode will be buried with full military honors at Riverside National Cemetery, his family said, but the date is undetermined.

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Junelehua Argelander, and his wife, Tina.

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