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Audie Murphy, the most decorated American warrior of World War II, found a new kind of fame in postwar Hollywood as a hero-actor.
Murphy was unaware that he was the most decorated soldier until the Army trumpeted the fact at a surprise banquet when he arrived home in 1945.
Among his decorations were the Medal of Honor (for single-handedly standing off six German tanks and 250 infantrymen), two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts (shrapnel in both legs, a sniper's bullet in the hip), the Distinguished Service Cross and the Legion of Merit.
Actor James Cagney saw a Life magazine cover story on the freckled, baby-faced 21-year-old Texan and got him to come to Hollywood.
Roles at first were few and far between. People and studios sought Murphy for publicity but not for acting. He slept in a gymnasium. But finally the breaks came.
"It's full of phonies," Murphy complained of Hollywood after a year's exposure. He complained that the Hollywood atmosphere helped wreck his marriage to actress Wanda Hendrix, which lasted less than a year.
His first film role was a small part as a West Point cadet in "Beyond Glory." Among the best-remembered of the more than 30 pictures he worked in are the autobiographical "To Hell and Back" (a record profit-maker for Universal International) and "Red Badge of Courage."
Murphy was killed in a small plane crash in 1971 while on his way from Atlanta to Martinsville, Va., to inspect a modular housing plant in which he was considering investing.
By then he was living in a modest San Fernando Valley home with his second wife and teenage sons and worked rarely as an actor. In 1968 he revealed he was broke and in debt. At the time of his death, Murphy was working with D'Alton Smith, a former Teamster's union member convicted of federal securities violations in trying to secure Teamster boss James R. Hoffa's release from federal prison.
After his funeral his first wife, Hendrix, emerged from the service in tears.
"He was a great soldier," she said. "No one can ever take that away from him. May he rest in peace."
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