From the Archives: John Wayne Dies at 72 of Cancer
John Wayne, the biggest box office attraction in motion picture history and a man whose unique style — both on screen and off — transformed him into one of America’s few living institutions, is dead.
The actor, whose screen portrayals of men of duty, honor and courage, coupled with his own off-camera brand of personal true grit, endeared him to nearly three generations of Americans, succumbed to cancer at 5:35 p.m. Monday at the UCLA Medical Center. He was 72 on May 2.
Wayne lapsed into a coma Sunday and never regained consciousness, hospital administrator Barney Strohm said. The actor’s three sons were with him when he died.
“He hadn’t been doing well lately — for the last couple of days,” Strohm said. “He would feel poorly, then he would tend to recover.”
Then, with his family gathered around him he died.
Strohm said Wayne’s family indicated that the funeral and interment would be private. The family suggested, the administrator said, that instead of flowers, donations to be sent to the John Wayne Memorial Cancer Fund at the UCLA Medical Center.
Wayne’s career, and his impact on his fellows, was nothing short of phenomenal. He started as a $35-a-week prop department flunky in 1926 and grew, over the decades into America’s most enduring film superstar.
In terms of longevity and popular appeal, both in the United States and elsewhere, there simply never was an actor like him. He appeared in at least 154 films (some experts estimate as many as 217, but not even Wayne himself knew for sure.)
As of 1974, the actor had starred in 17 of the 100 highest-grossing films in Hollywood history and gross earnings from all Wayne films have been estimated at considerably more than $700 million!
From 1949 through 1974, Wayne had been ranked as either the No. 1 American box office star, or within the Top 10 of that elite group no less than 25 out of 26 times, failing to achieve that distinction only in 1958.
(Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, the No. 2 and No. 3 runnersup in the all-time popularity poll, were among the Top 10 box office stars 19 and 16 years, respectively. The poll was discontinued after 1974).
In a special category reserved only for a few Presidents and other very special citizens, John Wayne for 40 years (dating roughly from his appearance in “Stagecoach” in 1939) was elevated by his countrymen to the status of genuine folk hero.
He was, like one the giant faces on Mt. Rushmore, a larger-than-life reminder of the nation’s heritage, as well as a living example of its once-celebrated, rough-and-tumble pioneer spirit.
His name and face, years ago, had become among the most recognizable in the world; his public and private support on political issues often was sought by government leaders, and, unlike most other stars, his popularity as an actor seemed to grow, rather than diminish, with the passing years.
As recently as the mid-1970s, U.S. Marine Corps recruiters in Cleveland, for example, reported that enlistments still jumped noticeably each time the Wayne film, “Sands of Iwo Jima,” appeared on television.
The movie, for which the actor had received his first, albeit unsuccessful, Academy Award nomination for best actor for his portrayal of the tough, driven Sgt. John M. Stryker, had been released in 1949!
But, in the end, the years of fame and popularity and Wayne’s own indomitable inner strengths could not turn back the final assault of one of life’s most dreaded diseases.
Fifteen years after the actor’s first successful battle with cancer, the disease roared to life again, seemingly attacking the weakened Wayne from his blind side, while his attentions and resources were focused on recovering from a series of other ailments and operations.
On April 3, 1978, he had undergone successful open-heart surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, during which the heart valve of a pig was used to replace one of Wayne’s own.
He was regaining some of his old stamina when, last Jan. 10, he entered UCLA for what was supposed to have been routine gall-bladder surgery. The operation two days later turned into a 9 1/2-hour ordeal, during which the actor’s stomach and associated lymph nodes were removed.
Some of the excised tissue was examined and found to be cancerous and the ultimate pathology report indicated the disease might have spread to other parts of Wayne’s body.
After a brief bout with bronchitis in April, Wayne again returned to UCLA the night of May 1, complaining of abdominal pains. He underwent surgery the next day to remove an “intestinal obstruction” and more cancer was discovered.
The actor immediately volunteered to undergo experimental cancer treatment and a room adjacent to his own became a home-away-from-home for Wayne family members.
As the previous Wayne hospitalizations, well-wishers from around the world sent their message of encouragement. During the final stay at UCLA, for example, the telegrams included one from Queen Elizabeth and a bedside visit from President Carter.
The letters, a hospital spokesman said, arrived by the thousands and had to be carted away daily by dutiful Wayne secretaries.
John Wayne’s last public appearance had come as poignant end to the Academy Awards television broadcast on April 9, when the gaunt actor walked onstage to present the Oscar for best picture to “The Deer Hunter.”
His appearance was greeted by a lengthy standing ovation from the audience of his peers.
In the voice that was recognizable the world over, Wayne thanked his audience for the applause, saying it was “just about the only medicine a fellow’d every really need.
“Believe me when I tell you that I’m might pleased that I can amble down here tonight.
“Oscar and I have something in common. Oscar first came to the Hollywood scene in 1928. So did I. We’re both a little weatherbeaten, but we’re here and plan to be around for whole lot longer.”
In the days that followed his final cancer surgery, Congress, in a historic endorsement of Wayne’s uniqueness as a man and an actor, ordered that a gold medal be issued in his honor.
Only the 84th such medal to be struck in the country’s history, it will read: “John Wayne — American.”
But perhaps the greatest tribute to Wayne’s impact on his times — the greatest salute any society can bestow upon an individual — came decades ago when even his name became part of the language.
“John Wayneism” became a verbal shorthand used to connote heroic, blind-to-the-outcome derring-do, or a brand of “superpatriotism” associated with the concept of “my country — right or wrong.”
The phrase commonly was used by both Wayne fans and detractors alike and, much like individual reaction to the actor himself, the usage was either entirely positive or entirely negative in intent, depending on the speaker’s own point of view.
Much has been written about the unique and passionate love affair that grew up between John Wayne and millions of his fellows. Suffice it to say that the man, both as an actor and as an individual, touched many people deeply — at a depth beyond the realms of simple entertainment or hero worship.
Over the years, Wayne played many types of roles, including comedy and romantic lead to many of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. But, the characterization that would ultimately immortalize him was that of a man doing his duty — whether in military uniform, civies or dust-encrusted Western wear — his duty as he saw it, sometimes almost fanatically, and usually against all odds.
The “role” (which many critics for years dismissed simply as “John Wayne being John Wayne”) first began to take form in the persona of Tom Dunson, the ruthless cattle drive boss in “Red River” in 1948.
But whether as Dunson or Stryker or as Reuben J. (Rooster) Cogburn, the crotchety, drunken old lawman in “True Grit” in 1969 (for which Wayne won his only Academy Award), the main themes of the characterizations rarely varied.
The Wayne screen “message,” if, indeed, it was that, seemed to be:
A man’s first commitment must be to his duty as his inner instincts define it, regardless of what his peers, be they friend or critic say.
He must be prepared to sacrifice all — his wife, his family, his fortune and especially his life, to carry out that duty.
And in pursuit of that objective, there are only a few rules: You don’t lie, you don’t sneak, and you don’t dishonor. Force is always met with force, preferably a lot of force, if you can lay hold of it.
The men he portrayed, the actor once said in an interview late in his career, “could be rough, immoral, cruel, tough or tender . . .
“But never petty or small.
“Everyone in the audience wants to identify with that kind of character. He may be bad, but if he’s bad, he’s bad. He’s not just a petty little whiner.”
Those who knew the actor well said Wayne was careful to maintain the continuity of that screen image, not only because it was financially successful, but because the concepts he portrayed struck a truthful chord in the man himself.
As a child, Wayne was fond of telling interviewers, his father had imparted to him the following life — philosophy, summed up in three rules:
“Always keep your word. A gentleman never insults anyone intentionally. Don’t look for trouble, but if you get into a fight, make sure you win it.”
The actor once said he had tried to live by those rules, with the possible exception of the second which, he admitted — usually with a satisfied, devilish glint in his eye — he had amended to:
A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.”
But it was not merely the roles he played as an actor that created the enduring love affair with his fans.
It was as if, over the years, the actor and the man seemed to merge together — both in the mind of many Americans, and within Wayne himself — to form one, indistinguishable symbol of courage, endurance and indestructibility.
John Wayne simply seemed to turn into John Wayne.
The culmination of that metamorphosis — of what might be called the blending of the man and the myth — became complete in 1964 when Wayne, then 57, successfully, and publicly defeated cancer.
Two months after leaving Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, Wayne — against the advice of his own public relations advisers — called a press conference at his home to advise the world he had undergone surgery for lung cancer.
A startled nation learned that, by virtue of early detection, the Duke had “lick the Big C.” It was, at the time, cancer’s most public defeat. Almost immediately, doctors reported getting requests from patients for “the kind of operation John Wayne had.”
As if to underscore the totality of his recovery — less than four months after he’d first entered Good Samaritan — Wayne, with only one lung, headed to Durango, Mexico to film, in high altitude, the physically demanding “Sons of Katie Elder.”
Later, Wayne would disclose that diagnosis of the presence of a cancer the size of a golf ball in his left lung had made him feel as if “someone hit me across the gut with a ball bat.”
Then in that simple, matter-of-fact language his characters used on the screen, Wayne told of how his inner fight begun:
“People resist death. There is a little pull that begins somewhere in you that begins wanting to stick around a little bit longer. I felt that pull everything I thought it was over . . .
“I thank the Man Upstairs for everything. He was looking after me.”
As to the “courage” it had taken to disclose his cancer when many of his advisers thought to do so would destroy his he-man image, the big, beefy actor had dismissed the act with a sweep of his hand:
“If I can help some poor devil (to take advantage of early checkups) or at least give (a cancer victim) hope, them I’m repaid enough,” he said.
The man and the myth had become one.
Like so many giants of the entertainment industry, John Wayne was not born of Hollywood or other megalopolis, but had his roots in the small-town Midwest.
Born Marion Robert Morrison May 26, 1907, in his family’s home in Winterset, Iowa, Wayne grew up on stories spun by oldtimers of the days when Jessie James robbed banks and trains in the area and of tall tales about wagon trains, Indians, and of the hardships endured, seemingly without complaint, by his pioneer ancestors.
Residents of Winterset and, later, Earlham, another small Iowa town, have told biographers that young Marion (his middle name was changed from Robert to Michael when his brother, Robert, was born) did not appear to have been a particularly happy child.
His parents, Clyde L. Morrison, a druggist, and the former Mary Brown, a telephone operator in Des Moines, argued frequently and Wayne spent many hours hiding in boxcars in the Earlham freight cars, planning his “for good” runaway from home, people who know the family have said.
The family homesteaded near Palmdale when Wayne was 7, then a small, gangly youngster, who was a bit shy with his peers, and already developing a tendency toward becoming something of a loner — as well as the private conviction that “big boys don’t cry.”
Young Marion’s day began at 5 a.m.
His routine was breakfast, chores, than a four-mile walk to Palmdale Public School, which he hated because his peers taunted him for talking “funny’ (he had a Midwestern accent), the walk home again, and then more chores.
His most frightening task involved long hours of shooting rattlesnakes to protect his father while the elder Morrison harrowed the land. The exercise made the boy a crack shot, however, and while he was never much good with a six-shooter — even in much later years — there were few who could best him with a rifle.
According to biographer Maurice Zolotow, the snake shooting also fave Wayne nightmares — visions of hordes of slithering, disembodied shake heads coming at him. Young Marion often awoke in a cold sweat in the middle of the night — but he kept these fears to himself.
Wayne would later say the Palmdale years (his parents moved to Glendale in 1916 when he was 9) taught him the demanding work habits he carried with him during his lifetime, and the importance of getting through long, lonely nights on his own inner resources.
The Palmdale period also gave vent to a capacity that would one day make him famous: The art of living in his imagination.
Long before John Wayne had even seen his first motion picture, he had developed the knack of throwing himself totally into his mind’s eye and playing a role . . .
On many rides atop the family mare, Jenny, the skinny, timid youth became first a frontier scout, than a paymaster carrying gold “bullion” (instead of groceries) in his saddlebags . . .
The rocks along Mint Canyon Highway became giant outcroppings of boulders, capable of hiding Indians, highwaymen and other evils, and when the Indians or robbers got too close, the boy who would become America’s most famous actor would give Jenny her head and ride . . .
Ride, ride — ride like the wind.
At Glendale High, Wayne grew into a muscular, outgoing young man (he was elected president of the class of 1925) — a high achiever both in his studies and on the athletic field.
Ironically, it was his prowess as a football player that ultimately would provide his exposure to the world of motion pictures. Shortly after his arrival at the University of Southern California, on a gridiron scholarship, Tom Mix, the day’s top cowboy star, provided the key.
In exchange for a box seat provided by USC Coach Howard Jones, Mix agreed to find work at Fox studios for some of Jones’ players who needed summer jobs. “Duke” Morrison (he’d gotten the nickname from a group of Glendale fireman he’d made friends with as a boy) was one of those chosen.
During his first summer as a $35-a-week member of a prop department “swing gang” moving furniture from set to set, Wayne met the man who ultimately would become his mentor, confidante and friend — director John Ford.
Their introduction, which came while Wayne was desperately trying to keep control of a flock of geese that were part of the “scenery” on the set of “Mother Machree,” would grow into one of the longest personal/professional relationships in the industry’s history.
Wayne and Ford, destined to become one Hollywood’s greatest directors, were to make some of their best films together over the years, and when once asked what had distinguished his career from those of hundreds of other western actors, Wayne had replied immediately:
In those early years, Wayne threw himself into learning as much as he could about the technical ins and outs of the magic that is movie-making — and few would learn the job better than he.
Despite his unparalleled stardom in later years, Wayne remained the consummate professional, always on time for a 5 a.m. makeup call (regardless of how much booze had flowed the night before), always in command of his lines, always ready to do his job.
In the long, early years of his “education,” Wayne had no inclination toward becoming an actor, but he was available for stunt work — often when no one else would risk taking a particular fall or dive.
However, Duke Morrison gradually began to appear on the screen . . .
His first recognizable appearance was in 1928, when he was seen as a man in a crowd watching a horse race in John Ford’s “Hangman’s House.” (He yells at the race’s outcome, then tears out a section of white picket fence and runs toward the winner.)
However, after not returning to USC for his junior year after a back injury wile swimming, young Morrison was picked by Raoul Walsh to appear as a trail guide in “The Big Trail” in 1930.
Thinking the director was “out of his mind,” but needing the $75-a-week the role paid, Duke signed on. Even by today’s standard, the picture was not too bad and, while the trail guild seemed a bit self-conscious, he wasn’t really too bad, either.
Jenny, the mare of Wayne’s Palmdale boyhood, would have been proud.
What followed was almost a decade of nondescript films, grade B and C westerns and serials, including a brief stint as “Singin’ Sandy,” a young cowpoke who had a strange habit of starting to sing right before he got really angry.
Also during this period, Wayne, through the tutelage of the famous stunt man, Yakima Canutt, learned how to do complicated horsefalls without betting killed, and developed with hours of practice a manner of walking and talking that later became his trademarks.
The walk was a loose, kind of moving sideways sort of a stride which Wayne once described as “not really lookin’ for trouble, but with an air that said I’d just as soon throw a bottle at ya as not.”
The Wayne drawl, uniquely his, was also a laid back sort of thing, with a strong hint of sleepy-eyed mayhem lurking just beneath the surface.
(As a historical note, it is generally conceded that it was Wayne and Canutt, working together in the early days to improve their abilities as stuntmen, who developed Hollywood’s ingenious “pass system” for throwing and taking simulated punch.
(Before the pair developed the near-miss punch technique, whereby a blow in thrown in front of a camera that has been pre-set at an angle which makes the punch appear real, “punches” were usually delivered as actual blows to an actor’s shoulder, couple with a reaction snap of the receiving actor’s head.
(The Wayne-Canutt technique was surprisingly realistic and Wayne often spent many hours teaching it to new actors he met during his career.)
In 1939, Wayne was cast by Ford in the film that would make him a star — “Stagecoach.”
The motion picture, a milestone in establishing the Western as an American art form, was a classic, winning three Academy Awards and featuring John Wayne in the principal role of the Ringo Kid, a young, good-natured outlaw with an easy sort of menacing grace.
Wayne was then 31 years old and already nearing what Hollywood of that day considered the “beginning-of-the-end” years for an actor aspiring to the roles of a leading man.
Forty years later, John Wayne would still command a superstar salary while in his 70s — a feat literally without precedent in the industry.
But the big man had paid his dues. Between “The Big Trail” in 1930 and “Stagecoach” nine years later, he had made a total of 60 films, none of them memorable.
Between “Stagecoach” and “Red River” in 1948, Wayne was seen in 30 films, including “The Dark Command,” “The Long Voyage Home,” “The Shepherd of the Hills,” “The Spoilers,” “A Lady Takes a Chance,” “They Were Expendable,” and “Angel and the Badman.”
Between 1948 and 1960, the traditional Wayne character took vivid form and he continued to make films at breakneck pace, often completing five or seven in a single year. It was also not uncommon to have as many as nine John Wayne films in current release at the same time!
The almost endless list included:
“Fort Apache” and “Red River” (both in 1948); “Wake of the Red Witch,” “Three Godfathers,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and what became a classic of the Wayne persona, his many faceted portrayal of Capt. Nathan Brittles in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (all in 1949).
“The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Searchers” (1956), in which some critics said he gave his most dramatic performance of his career as a man twisted by sense of duty and revenge; “The Horse Soldiers” and “Rio Bravo” (both in 1959).
Then, against the advice of almost all of his friends, Wayne made “The Alamo” in 1960. Committed in his own mind to making the film for more than a decade, Wayne sank more than $1 million of his personal funds into the immense project, in which he not only starred, but produced and directed as well.
The film, which did poorly at the box office, was one of the few major disappointments of his motion picture career.
(Despite great financial success from his film endeavors, many of Wayne’s outside investments lost money and he never amassed the million that contemporaries like Bob Hop and others did.
(Badly managed and ill-timed investments—Wayne said he once lost $500,000 in a shrimp business in Panama—plus three marriages and a free spending life-style kept the actor working continuously through almost all of his professional life.
(In an interview in 1962, Wayne said: “I suddenly found out after 25 years that I was starting out all over again. I didn’t have it made at all. Until last year, I had a business manager who didn’t do anything illegal, but was involved in many money-losing deals. I would just about break even if I sold everything now. That means broke”
(However, his holdings in later years were to become substantial and included an expensive bayfront home in Newport Beach, an Arizona cattle ranch and various other investments. In addition, Wayne’s 136-foot yacht, a converted World War II minesweeper he named “The Wild Goose,” was well-known to Southern California mariners. The yacht/ship was sold recently to a Santa Monica attorney.)
Wayne quickly followed “Alamo” with successes such as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” (1962), “Donovan’s Reef,” (1963), “In Harm’s Way” and “The Sons of Katie Elder” (both in 1965), “El Dorado” (1967) and “The Green Berets” (1968).
“Berets” was another film many advisers told him not to make. A hawkish portrayal of the role of U.S. special forces in Vietnam, it came at the height of antiwar protest fever in the country.
Wayne was accused of producing a political film and of getting more assistance from the Army than he should have while filming the picture at Ft. Benning, Ga.
The actor angrily responded that, once again, the “Eastern liberals” were “judging my politics, not my films.” However, Wayne gleefully noted to reporters that, with every new controversial story the film generated, lines at the box offices grew longer.
(Wayne’s politics were both a joy and an abomination to various segments of the public and, while he was usually found to be in the extremely conservative “camp,” his politics frequently defied easy pigeonholing, such as in 1978, when he outraged many of his conservative friends by forcefully backing adoption of U.S. treaties giving control of the Panama Canal to Panama.)
In 1969, “True Grit,” the film for which Wayne would win his only Oscar, was released and the critical, as well as public, acclaim began to roll in. It was as if for the first time, critics seemed to feel comfortable assessing Wayne as a talented actor.
The film, through its rough-hewn humor, its uncomplicated values, seemed to tug at something perhaps long ago forsaken by every man . . .
Every man who wanted to be John Wayne when he was 6 and the world was a simpler place, with only good guys and bad guys, and when quick and uncompromising justice was dispensed by the Big Man with the familiar rolling, almost listing, walk and the squinting, yet piercing, blue eyes . . .
Every man who, as an adult in a complicated, computerized world, has secretly yearned—if just once—to sit tall in the saddle atop a prancing, foam-flecked mount at the far side of a wide, fairytale expanse of western meadow to finally confront, outnumbered and alone, the men of evil.
Perhaps a little, yet precious, bit of each of us rode with him when, as Cogburn, John Wayne confronted Ned Pepper and his band of bad men.
Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), a practical man, had first given the one-eyed, shaky-handed old marshal a chance to back down, Cogburn, facing almost certain death, had nonetheless, like an overweight banty rooster staring into a buzzsaw, refused to turn tail.
The Pepper had made a fatal mistake. He’d called Rooster a “one-eyed fat man.”
In a closeup, the forehead on the valiant old marshal’s boot-leather face could be seen to crinkle a bit and his jaw just out even further as he drew himself back in the saddle and bellowed to Pepper across the meadow—and, it seemed across time:
“Fill yore hand, you sonuvabitch!”
Then, Rooster Cogburn had cliched the reins in his teeth, spurred his horse, and started hell-bent toward his foes, a Winchester spewing bullets in his right hand and a six-shooter spitting lead in his left.
It was a perfectly rousing scene (one of Wayne’s personal favorites), enhanced even more by the fact that the actor, then 61 and long able to command $1 million-plus-per-picture, still refused to permit a stand-in — even for a scene that called for his horse to be shot and roll on top of him.
Eighteen months after the scene was shot, Wayne, whose acting many thought had been taken for granted for decades, ambled up on stage to receive his Academy Award before one of the largest television audiences in history.
Cheeks blushing, eyes damp with tears, he waited until the ovation died down, then said: “If I’d known what I know now, I’d have put a patch on my eye (as Rooster Cogburn) 35 years ago.”
John Wayne, the big, bellowing, heavy-drinking, mountainous vista of a man whose greatest hobbies were chess, bridge, poker and memorizing poetry, had finally had his day.
Then the actor, always so nervous in front of live audiences that he had to memorize his “off-the-cuff” remarks ahead of time, but ever oh-so-calm before a motion picture camera, had waved at them and walked off—the Oscar statuette a mere flicker of dwarfed gold in his big, gnarled hand.
“He is a motion picture actor first, last and always,” Times Arts Editor Charles Champlin wrote in 1974, “and he had defined as well and as powerfully as anyone else what that means.
“From the lean and intense early days, in those low-cost dusters which still play on morning television, Wayne has had a presence which got through the lenses and shutters and onto the film undiminished.
“Whether he could play Strindberg in repertory was never the point (although some critics tried to make it so); the vaults are full of classically schooled stage actors who in front of a camera could not steal a scene from a parking meter.
“James Cagney once said the secret of movie acting was to plant your feet and look the other actor in the eye and tell the truth, and that is what Wayne had been doing now for more than 40 years.”
In the years following “True Grit,” Wayne made at least a dozen other pictures, including “The Cowboys” (1972) and “Rooster Cogburn” (1975), in which he teamed for the first time with Katharine Hepburn.
What was to become Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist” (1976), in retrospect, seems to brim with irony, for it was a portrait of an aging gunfighter dying of cancer.
The movie not only mirrored some elements of Wayne’s own life, but also used film clips from his previous motion pictures to depict not only flashbacks of the dying gunfighter’s life, but a tribute to Wayne’s own illustrious film career as well.
However, there was little doubt, despite some publicity to the contrary, that Wayne — at least until his illnesses struck him down — had wanted to make more films.
“Unless I stop breathing, or people stop coming to see my films, I’ll be making more of them,” he had said on the set of “The Shootist.”
But it was not to be.
Wayne’s last work as an actor included in the final years several television appearances and a lucrative series of television commercials for Great Western Savings, which were seen only in California.
It is his role as Cogburn in “True Grit” which perhaps will be most remembered in his death. That is particularly fitting. Wayne once said his role as Rooster was his favorite because the old marshal was a “mean old bastard, a one-eyed, whiskey-soaked, sloppy old son-of-a-birth—just like me.”
The mind flashed to the film’s final scene: After Rooster has saved young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) from the bad men who had killed her father, the two are seen at the Ross family plot.
The time is winter and death’s chill seems to hang in the still air. Mattie, aware that Rooster’s only friends are an elderly “Chinaman” and a cat, offers him a place in her family’s graveyard when his time comes to “meet eternity.”
Rooster, obviously touched by the gesture, nonetheless swings atop his horse and, after declaring he planned to put off that day as long as possible, invites Mattie to “Come and see a fat old man sometime . . .”
With that, John Wayne/Rooster Cogburn jumps his horse over a fence — apparently, just to show the world he still could—and waves his hat in an outstretched-arm salute . . .
And the camera freezes the big man into a blurry image . . . and holds him there — the last of a breed, frozen on the misty edge of legend, and of history . . .
John Wayne was once asked to write his own epitaph. He responded quickly, and in Spanish:
Feo, fuerte y formal, which he translated to mean, “He was ugly, was strong and had dignity.”
Rooster Cogburn would have like that.
Wayne leaves his third wife, Pilar, from whom the actor was separated in 1973; three sons, Michael, Patrick and Ethan; four daughters, Mrs. Melinda Munoz, Mrs. Toni La Cava, Aissa and Marisa and 21 grandchildren.
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