Tony Curtis was one of the busiest, most popular and strikingly handsome movie stars of the 1950s and ’60s.
Though known for his work in such dramas as “Houdini,” “Trapeze,” “The Sweet Smell of Success” (as the conniving Sidney Falco), “The Defiant Ones” (Oscar nomination) and “Spartacus” (as Roman slave — and famed “bathtub prey” — Antonius), he is perhaps most widely remembered for his zany turn as a cross-dressing musician in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy classic, “Some Like It Hot.”
Curtis starred in a string of comedies throughout the 1960s including “40 Pounds of Trouble,” “Goodbye Charlie,” “Sex and the Single Girl,” “The Great Race,” “Boeing Boeing” and “Not With My Wife, You Don’t!” During this time, he also appeared in such dramas as “Taras Bulba” and “Captain Newman, M.D.” and in the title role of “The Boston Strangler” (Golden Globe nomination).
Over the next few decades, Curtis continued acting in features (“Lepke,” “The Last Tycoon,” “Sextette,” “The Bad News Bears Go to Japan,” “The Mirror Crack’d”), adding telefilms (“The Users,” “The Scarlett O’Hara War” and “Mafia Princess”) and TV series (“The Persuaders,” “Vega$”) to his increasingly workaday resume.
The 1990s and 2000s saw Curtis appearing in a grab bag of little-seen features and occasional TV parts. While his acting career ebbed, his work as a painter flourished, earning him substantial fees as well as a 2007 display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
Curtis was married and divorced five times, most famously to “Psycho” star Janet Leigh. The actor’s sixth and current wife (since 1998), Jill Vandenberg, is 42 years his junior.
He spoke frankly about his personal and professional ups and downs in a 1999 Turner Classic Movies special.
On the subject of his well-publicized breakup with first wife Leigh, Curtis said: "We had such profound differences that neither of us could manage it. I just couldn't play that game anymore . . . be with somebody I couldn't stand anymore and vice versa."
Curtis also talked openly about his struggle with drug addiction: "Drugs were very important to me. I used to freebase, smoke cocaine, a lot of alcohol. I did some heroin. I couldn't work. I didn't lose jobs; I just didn't get them."
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