Screen's Ultimate Tough Guy Lived Life On His Terms

LOS ANGELES, USA -- Jack Palance, the craggy-faced villain in ''Shane,'' ''Sudden Fear'' and many other films who turned successfully to comedy in his 70s with his Oscar-winning self-parody in "City Slickers," died Friday. He was 87.

Jack Palance, born in Pennsylvania coal country of Ukrainian parents, died at age 87

The actor died of natural causes at his home in Montecito, Calif., surrounded by family, said spokesman Dick Guttman.

In 1992, when he accepted an Oscar for best supporting actor, he delighted viewers by dropping to the stage and performing one-armed pushups to demonstrate his physical prowess.

''That's nothing, really,'' he said slyly. ''As far as two-handed pushups, you can do that all night, and it doesn't make a difference whether she's there or not.''

That year's Oscar host, Billy Crystal, turned the moment into a running joke, making outlandish remarks about Mr. Palance's accomplishments during the show.

It was a magic moment that epitomized the actor's 40 years in films. Always the iconoclast, he had scorned most of his movie roles. ''Most of the stuff I do is garbage,'' he once said, adding that most of the directors he worked with were incompetent, too. ''Most of them shouldn't even be directing traffic."

Movie audiences, though, were electrified by the actor's chiseled face, hulking presence and the calm, low voice that made his screen presence all the more intimidating.

Earned early acclaim

His film debut came in 1950, playing a murderer named Blackie in Elia Kazan's ''Panic in the Streets.''

After a war picture, ''Halls of Montezuma,'' he portrayed the ardent lover who stalks a terrified Joan Crawford in ''Sudden Fear'' (1952). The role earned him his first Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

The following year brought his second nomination when he portrayed Jack Wilson, the swaggering gunslinger who bullies peace-loving Alan Ladd into a barroom duel in the classic Western ''Shane.''

That role cemented his reputation as Hollywood's favorite villain, and he went on to appear in such films as ''Arrowhead'' (as a renegade Apache), ''Sign of the Pagan'' (as Attila the Hun) and ''The Silver Chalice'' (as a challenger to Jesus).

Weary of being typecast, he moved with his wife and children to Switzerland at the height of his career. He spent six years abroad but returned home complaining that his European film roles were ''the same kind of roles I left Hollywood because of.''

TV career was varied

He also appeared frequently on television in the 1960s and '70s. He and his daughter Holly Palance hosted the oddity show ''Ripley's Believe It or Not,'' and he starred in the short-lived series ''The Greatest Show on Earth'' and ''Bronk.''

Forty-one years after his film debut, Mr. Palance played against type, to a degree. His ''City Slickers'' character Curly was still a menacing figure, but with a comic twist. And the veteran actor delivered his one-liners with surgeonlike precision.

At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Mr. Palance won a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. He left after two years, disgusted by the sport's commercialization, and later studied at Stanford University.

He made his Broadway debut in a comedy, ''The Big Two,'' in which he had but one line, spoken in Russian.

The play lasted only a few weeks, and he supported himself as a short-order cook, waiter, lifeguard and hot dog seller between other small roles.

His career breakthrough came when he was chosen as Anthony Quinn's understudy in the road company of ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' then he replaced Marlon Brando in the Stanley Kowalski role on Broadway. The show's director, Elia Kazan, chose him for ''Panic in the Streets.''

Born Walter Jack Palahnuik in Pennsylvania coal country on Feb. 18, 1919, he was the third of five children of Ukrainian immigrants.

He once told an interviewer he had ''a good childhood, like most kids think they have. It was fine to play there in the third-growth birch and aspen, along the sides of slag piles."

Source: AP