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Tony Curtis dies at 85; starred in 'Some Like It Hot' and 'Sweet Smell of Success'

Tony Curtis, the Bronx tailor's son who became a 1950s movie heartthrob and then a respected actor with such films as "Sweet Smell of Success," "The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot," has died. He was 85.

He began to attract female fan letters, and Universal gave him his first starring role, in 1951, with "The Prince Who Was a Thief" opposite Piper Laurie. The film was immensely profitable and confirmed to studio executives Mr. Curtis's sexual appeal.

He went to race cars in "Johnny Dark" (1954), boxed in "Flesh and Fury" (1952) and showed his comic potential in Douglas Sirk's underrated "No Room for the Groom" (1952). He also was in a musical, "So This Is Paris" (1955), and played the title role in the movie biography "Houdini" (1953), about the escape artist Harry Houdini, with Janet Leigh as his screen wife.

Mr. Curtis was continually at the top of popularity polls, but he became increasingly unsparing in his comments about Hollywood. To a reporter who asked what it was like making love to Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot," he said, in a much-repeated line, that it was "like kissing Hitler."

He later said the comment was meant flippantly and partly in frustration to Monroe's inconsiderate behavior on the set, but it came to symbolize Mr. Curtis's unpredictability. His 1970 arrest at London's Heathrow Airport for marijuana possession, while making the British television series "The Persuaders!" with Roger Moore, was seen as further evidence of why his bankability plummeted.

Mr. Curtis began a long career in secondary roles -- among them, the impotent star in "The Last Tycoon" (1976), a Joe McCarthy-like senator in Nicolas Roeg's 1985 film "Insignificance" and gangster Sam Giancana in the 1986 TV film "Mafia Princess."

Doubleday published his Hollywood-based novel, "Kid Andrew Cody and Julie Sparrow" in 1977 but sued him over what the company considered an unacceptably bad second work of fiction. After losing an appeal, Mr. Curtis was ordered to repay the $50,000 advance.

Despite such setbacks, he was always accessible to the media and bared most of the strains and pleasures of his life in a 1993 memoir written with Barry Paris. His marriages to Janet Leigh, Christine Kaufmann, Leslie Allen, Andrea Savio and Lisa Deutsch ended in divorce.

Survivors include his sixth wife, Jill VandenBerg, who is 45 years his junior; two daughters from the first marriage, Kelly and Jamie Lee Curtis; two daughters from the second marriage, Alexandra and Allegra; a son from the third marriage, Benjamin.

Mr. Curtis told the London Independent in 1996: "Movies have given me the privilege to be an aristocrat, to be the prince. It gets me great tables at restaurants, beautiful cars to drive around in, a lovely woman to take out to dinner, to sit around and talk with some of the most intelligent brains that are around, to be recognized everywhere, to be loved by so many people, to lie here in bed, turn on the television, and there I am."

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