Friday, September 30, 2016

Marlon Brando (1924-2004)

Birth name: Marlon Brando Jr
Birthdate: April 3rd, 1924
Location: Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Died: July 1st, 2004
Location: Westwood, California, USA
Cause of death: Respiratory failure

Best known for: Legendary American performer often cited as the greatest actor of all time, and an influence on generations of performers to come. He was nominated eight times for an Oscar, winning two - for On the Waterfront in 1955 and The Godfather in 1973 (although Marlon refused this award due to the poor treatment of American Indians in the entertainment industry). He also won five Golden Globes, a Primetime Emmy and three BAFTAs. His iconic status as a legend in film history will last forever, thanks to films such as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Wild One (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

Everybody knows how great Marlon was in his prime in the 1950s and 60s, his legendary status as a principal icon of American film history meaning that most people know something about his career when it was at its height. And most people know that Marlon put on a great deal of weight as he entered old age. But what exactly did this Hollywood icon do in his latter years?

Marlon, aged 74, in Free Money (1998)
Well, throughout the 1990s, Marlon's film appearances became fewer and far between, with his last regular film being Free Money, released in December 1998. This $30m comedy crime caper co-starred Donald Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Mira Sorvino and saw Marlon play Sven "The Swede" Sorenson, a prison jailer who murders convicts who escape and is being investigated by the FBI. Marlon was 74 years old and had put on a huge amount of weight by this point. Free Money would be his penultimate film role.

His final film was 2001's $68m The Score, co-starring Robert De Niro, Edward Norton and Angela Bassett, with Marlon playing Max, a friend of De Niro's character. Max tempts Nick out of his retirement from a life of crime for one last job. In the final scene of the film, Max was supposed to smile, but Marlon refused, and so the effect had to be augmented using CGI. By many accounts, the 77-year-old Marlon was not the easiest to work with on set, as he took to disparaging remarks about director Frank Oz, leading to De Niro having to direct Marlon's scenes.

Marlon in his final film, The
Score, in 2001, aged 77
There are also reports that Marlon walked around the set naked between takes due to the heat of the Montreal location (which can't have been a pretty sight!), and that he pulled a number of practical jokes involving a remote-controlled whoopee cushion! If you want to see Marlon and De Niro improvise one scene from The Score over three takes, click here.

However, The Score was not intended to be Marlon's final film, as he was to play Father McFeely in Scary Movie 2 (2001), but when he was hospitalised with pneumonia in April 2001, the role was taken by James Woods (Marlon was due to receive $2m for four days work). Further near misses include playing Paul Rayburn in 2004's Man on Fire (a role taken by Christopher Walken) and the voice of Mrs Sour in the never-completed Big Bug Man (Marlon recorded the voice in June 2004, just weeks before his death, but the film has never been completed or released in any form since).

Marlon with Michael Jackson,
who became a good friend of the
actor's in his latter years
Many people may not know that the very last acting appearance Marlon Brando made was in the music video for Michael Jackson's You Rock My World, released in September 2001. Marlon played the boss of a nightclub who briefly faces off against Jackson, and there were apparently plans for Marlon to appear in future Jackson videos. The two were friends, but unfortunately Jackson's professional problems with his record company, and his personal setbacks to an extent, meant there were no more music videos of this kind from the Invincible album. However, Marlon did make a personal appearance at Jackson's 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City in September, 2001 (and was paid $1m to do so), speaking (somewhat unpopularly) about humanitarianism.

In November 2001 Marlon filmed a series of documentaries called Lying for a Living in which he gave acting lessons to 20 student actors and a handful of stars such as Nick Nolte, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Voight, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jackson, Peter Coyote, Harry Dean Stanton, Edward James Olmos, Philippe Petit, Robin Williams and Sean Penn, with the intention of selling them on DVD on the shopping channel QVC, but the finished DVDs never came to fruition. However, you can read about some of the bizarre goings-on that happened over that 10-day period here, including Brando in drag and also dressed as Osama bin Laden!

Aside from Marlon's voice work for the elusive Big Bug Man, he also recorded a few lines for The Godfather video game, released in March 2006. However, due to Marlon's health, only one recording session made it into the final game as the oxygen tank he needed to breathe was audible on the track for other sessions. The only scene which uses Marlon's new vocals is the scene in the hospital, where he speaks about Sollozzo.

Marlon pictured leaving UCLA Medical
Center in March 2003, aged 79
Marlon's friend George Englund said that the star told him a couple of years before his death that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered him a Lifetime Achievement Oscar on the condition that he attend the ceremony to personally accept the award. Marlon refused, believing that the offer should not be conditional, and that the condition that he appear on the televised ceremony showed the Academy was not primarily focused on honouring artistic excellence.

Marlon had been putting on weight since the 1960s, and by the age of 70 he reportedly weighed 300lbs (136kg/ 21.4 stone) and suffered from Type 2 diabetes. Marlon's son Miko was a bodyguard for Michael Jackson and said that one of the last times his father left the house (Summer 2003) was to spend time with Jackson at Neverland. "He loved it. He had a 24-hour chef, 24-hour security, 24-hour help, 24-hour kitchen, 24-hour maid service," said Miko. "Michael Jackson was instrumental in helping my father through the last years of his life and for that I will always be indebted to him. Dad had a hard time breathing in his final days and was on oxygen much of the time. He loved the outdoors so Michael would invite him over to Neverland... but being on oxygen it was hard for dad to get around, it's such a big place. So Michael got dad a golf cart with a portable oxygen tank so he could enjoy Neverland."

In 2004 Marlon signed a deal with Tunisian director Ridha Behi for a project entitled Brando and Brando, and work on the script ran right up to a week before Marlon's death, with a projected filming date for July or August 2004. The project eventually became Citizen Brando aka Always Brando, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.

One of the last photos taken of Marlon,
in March 2004, aged 79
On July 1st, 2004, Marlon Brando died of respiratory failure from pulmonary fibrosis with congestive heart failure at UCLA Medical Center in California. He was 80 years old, and left behind 14 children (two more predeceased him) and more than 30 grandchildren. Marlon also suffered from failing eyesight caused by diabetes and liver cancer. There were reports that just weeks prior to his death, Marlon had refused permission to have oxygen tubes inserted into his lungs, said to be the only way to save his life.

Marlon Brando was cremated and his ashes put with those of his childhood friends Wally Cox (1924-1973) and Sam Gilman. The ashes were partly scattered in his beloved Tahiti and partly in Death Valley. Marlon had taken possession of Cox's ashes from his widow with the intention of scattering them at sea, but actually kept them locked away in a closet at his house, and frequently spoke to Wally in the subsequent decades. Marlon even kept the pajamas Wally died in.

Those final lines spoken by Brando in The Godfather video game - which he recorded virtually on his death bed, as was the character - can be heard here...

But more cheerily, here's footage of Brando screen-testing for Rebel Without a Cause and simply oozing charisma from every fibre of his existence... (to see a James Dean screen-test for the film, click here - towards the end, you can see why Jimmy may have won the role).

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