George Raft, 85, who brought an air of cool menace and tight-lipped toughness to scores of roles in Hollywood crime and adventure movies, died of emphysema yesterday at a Los Angeles hospital.
A former boxer and night club performer who grew up in a rough Manhattan neighborhood, Mr. Raft was sometimes seen as having an off-screen life that mirrored his on-screen roles.
One of those who helped create and then flourished in the heyday of the American gangster movie, Mr. Raft achieved stardom as a gangland chieftain's sinister, coin-flipping bodyguard in the 1933 production of "Scarface."
Although his work often failed to impress the critics, audiences apparently found him convincing as a shady figure on the wrong side of the law, and he earned top salaries during the 1930s and 1940s in such films as "Background to Danger," "Mr. Ace," "Johnny Angel," "Intrigue" and "Dangerous Profession."
Often seen on screen in prison garb during a movie career that included more than 100 productions over four decades, Mr. Raft capitalized on that image in the late 1960s when he made a celebrated television commercial in which he led a group of inmates in a prison dining hall in a cup-banging mass demand for Alka-Seltzer.
In the real world, despite a 1965 taxevasion guilty plea and years of rumored associations with gamblers and gangsters, Mr. Raft reminded interviewers, in an assertion that defended not only his character but also his skill as an actor, that "I've never been locked up . . . . "
In 1967 he was banned as an undesirable from England where he had been working for a London casino.
Denying that he had any associations with underworld figures beyond occasional acquaintanceship, Mr. Raft explained his reputed familiarity with some raffish characters by citing the circumstances of his upbringing in Manhattan's notorious Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.
"We were taught to be nice to everybody," he said, "to say hello to everybody. If a guy introduced himself to me as 'Sleep-Out Louie,' I'd say 'Hello, Sleep-Out Louie.' What was I supposed to do? I danced in nightclubs for 15 years and I met a lot of people."
Before embarking on his successful career as a nightclub dancer, the 5-foot, 9-inch Mr. Raft had been a bantam-weight boxer, who admitted to being knocked out seven times in 17 bouts, and, for two seasons, a minor league baseball outfielder who hit no better than .240.
In "Taxi," his first Hollywood movie, he was cast, appropriately enough, as a dance contest winner, and soon, with his slick, dark hair and heavy-lidded dark eyes, he was being considered as a possible successor to Rudolph Valentino.
After gaining stardom in the 1930s, he also was tagged in the studios as stubborn and hard to handle. A high school dropout, he claimed he was only trying to avoid roles for which he would inspire only ridicule.
Although not himself a true tough guy, he said, he played those roles because "that's the only way the public would accept me."
The money he earned in such films as "They Drive By Night" -- a minor classic -- and "Rogue Cop," "Loan Shark," "I'll Get You" and "Outpost in Morocco" brought years of high living, horse betting and handouts to supplicating strangers.
A lot also went to his wife, the former Grayce Mulrooney, from whom he was estranged shortly after their 1923 marriage. There were no children.
His wife died in 1970.
Most recently he had been a goodwill ambassador for a Las Vegas hotel. But of the fortune he had made, little or nothing left. "I wish I knew where it all went," he said.