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  Actor George C. Scott Dead at 71

The Associated Press
Thursday, Sept. 23, 1999; 7:51 a.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES –– George C. Scott, whose eagle-like profile and commanding, gravel-voiced demeanor brought life to Gen. George S. Patton and earned him an Oscar he refused to accept, has died. He was 71.

Scott died Wednesday, Pat Mahoney, wife of Scott's publicist, Jim Mahoney, said Thursday.

Scott died at his home in Westlake Village in Ventura County, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

She said she didn't know the cause of death. "They just found him and are trying to find out what happened," she said. "He was on again, off again for a while. He just expired."

The answering service for the Ventura County Coroner's office confirmed Scott had died but had no other information. The coroner planned to release a statement this morning, County Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Higgason said.

Scott captivated audiences in roles ranging from the dangerously explosive, yet sympathetic Patton in 1970 to the fatuous blowhard Gen. Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove."

The two were opposite ends of a spectrum of his memorable film characters: the shark on the sidelines who tries to devour Paul Newman in "The Hustler"; the high-powered ringer brought in to steamroller small-town lawyer James Stewart in "Anatomy of a Murder"; the dedicated doctor ground down by red tape and institutional incompetence in "The Hospital."

On television, he etched a gritty portrait of a social worker fighting a tide of urban misery in the television series "East Side/West Side."

On stage, when at age 68 Scott rose from a sickbed to star in the 1996 Broadway revival of "Inherit the Wind," one critic said it was like watching a horse buggy powered by a Ferrari engine.

In private life, he was for years a bellicose drinker whose profile was marked by a nose broken five times, in four barroom brawls and one mugging. He was married five times – twice to the same woman, actress Colleen Dewhurst.

When Scott played in "Plaza Suite" in 1968, co-star Maureen Stapleton and director Mike Nichols had this reported exchange at rehearsal:

Stapleton: "I'm so frightened of George, I don't know what to do."

Nichols: "My dear, the whole world is frightened of George."

With his highly publicized rejection of the Academy Award more than a decade in the future, Scott mopped up nearly every prize in sight for eye-catching performances when he hit the New York stage in 1957 and 1958.

He had spent seven years in the sticks, playing stock and living on menial jobs, preparing for the breakthrough that came when he was 30 years old and caught the eye of Joseph Papp, impresario of the New York Shakespeare Festival.

In rapid succession, the unknown Scott played the title role in "Richard III" in November 1957, Jacques in "As You Like It" in January 1958 and a poisoning peer in the off-Broadway "Children of Darkness" in March 1958.

For his work in all three productions he received the off-Broadway best actor Obie and a Theatre World award as a "promising personality." For the Shakespeare performances, he won a Clarence Derwent Award as most promising actor and a Vernon Rice Award for contribution to off-Broadway theater.

Later the same year, his Broadway debut in "Comes a Day" was recognized with the first of what would be four Tony Award nominations. The others were for "The Andersonville Trial" in 1959, "Uncle Vanya" in 1974 and "Death of a Salesman," which he also directed, in 1975.

Over his career he also won a second Obie, two television Emmys out of five nominations and was nominated for Oscars four times.

The movie roles that established his fame and provided the money to continue doing theater began in 1959 with the role of a charismatic loony who stirs up a lynch mob against Gary Cooper in "The Hanging Tree."

The same year, "Anatomy of a Murder" brought his first Academy Award nomination. He said nothing about it.

But when he was nominated again in 1962, for "The Hustler," he wired the academy "no thanks." The academy did not withdraw his name, but he didn't win either.

Scott said later that he did not think he'd ever again be nominated and regretted only that "I wasn't able to shock the academy into doing something constructive" about what he viewed as a meaningless popularity contest.

The academy ignored his withdrawal again in 1970 and gave Scott the best-actor Oscar, to go along with Golden Globe and New York Film Critics honors, for "Patton." The movie, a favorite of President Nixon, received seven Academy Awards. Scott said he spent the evening watching hockey.

His last nomination was for "The Hospital" in 1971. A score of movies would follow, including "The Savage Is Loose," which Scott produced, directed and starred in with his fourth wife, Trish Van Devere, in 1974. It flopped and Scott lost his shirt.

His first Emmy nomination was for a Ben Casey episode called "I Remember a Lemon Tree" in 1961.

The others came during the years between his two short-lived TV series, the critically acclaimed "East Side/West Side" in 1963-64 and a sitcom, "Mr. President," in 1987-88.

He won Emmys for directing "The Andersonville Trial" on PBS in 1970 and acting in "The Price" on the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1971. He also was a nominee for acting in Hallmark's 1976 "Beauty and the Beast."

Although he commissioned "The Last Days of Patton," which aired in 1986, because he didn't think he had given the general "a fair shake the first time around," Scott maintained that moviemaking was tedious and he did it only for the money.

"I have to work in the theater to stay sane," he said. "You can attack the stage fresh every night."

He disdained "method" acting and said he learned his craft from watching movie greats.

"Cagney and Bogart taught me how to act. During the depressing periods of most actors' lives, they sleep a lot. I went to the movies," he once told an interviewer.

Scott was born in Wise, Va., a coal town, on Oct. 18, 1927, but grew up in Detroit. He joined the Marines in 1945, too late for action in World War II and spent his four years in service burying the dead at Arlington by day and boozing at night.

"You can't look at that many widows in veils and hear that many 'Taps' without taking to drink," he said.

He left the Missouri School of Journalism in 1950 without a degree and threw himself into acting, performing in more than 100 roles with stock companies in Toledo, Ohio; Washington and Ontario, Canada.

During this time, his marriages to Carolyn Hughes and Patricia Reed produced two daughters, Victoria and Devon, and a son, Matthew.

He met Dewhurst when they appeared together in "Children of Darkness" and they were married in 1960, divorced in 1965, remarried in 1967 and divorced in 1972. They had two sons, Alexander and Campbell.

Scott also acknowledged a sixth child, born out of wedlock during his school years. He and Van Devere married in 1972.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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