Cary Grant, 82, the debonaire leading man whose wit, polished elegance, aristocratic bearing, clipped accent and classically cleft chin helped make him a romantic legend and leading light in Hollywood's constellation of stars, died Saturday night at a hospital in Davenport, Iowa, after a stroke.

He was stricken during rehearsal of a one-man show, "A Conversation With Cary Grant." The 90-minute program was to feature clips from several of Grant's movies, followed by a talk and then a question-and-answer session with the actor. He was declared dead at 11:22 p.m. Central Standard Time.

Grant appeared in 72 films. These included such classics as "The Philadelphia Story," "North by Northwest," "Bringing Up Baby," "Notorious," "Father Goose," "Topper" and "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." His last movie, "Walk, Don't Run," in which he played opposite Samantha Eggar, was released in 1966.

After learning of his death, President Reagan described his old friend as "one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. His elegance, wit and charm will endure forever on film and in our hearts."

Actor Charlton Heston said, "Cary Grant was surely as unique as any film star and as important as anyone since Charlie Chaplin. What he did, he did better than anyone ever has or, perhaps, ever will. The only comfort we can take is we still have him on film."

Film critic Pauline Kael said he "had the longest romantic reign in the short history of movies." Actress Katharine Hepburn once said of his style, "He is personality functioning."

Grant was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor for the 1941 movie "Penny Serenade" and for "None but the Lonely Heart," a 1944 film in which he played a serious role as a Cockney tramp. In 1970, he was presented with an honorary career Oscar for "his unique mastery of the art of screen acting."

He accepted the award saying, "I have been privileged to be a part of Hollywood's most glorious era."

A tall, dark figure of magnetic masculine charm, he starred in movies of adventure, intrigue and, perhaps most effectively, in light and sophisticated comedy. He was the idol of women and admired by men.

In pictures opposite nearly all of the leading women of the day -- though he eventually fell for their charms by the last reel -- Grant often appeared to fight the inevitable romantic climax with an air of mildly quizzical surprise and amusement.

During 1932, his first year in films, he appeared opposite Marlene Dietrich in "Blonde Venus." A year later, he began to achieve stardom when he played opposite the irrepressible Mae West, who asked him -- in an often-misquoted line -- "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"

In "To Catch a Thief," released in 1955, a smolderingly smitten Grace Kelly tempted Grant with his choice of "a leg or a breast" -- of chicken as it turned out.

If his work seemed unique and endearing to many, to others it appeared effortless and somewhat repetitive. Whether he played an Australian coast watcher, unworldly professor, dynamic publisher or carefree playboy, he was always Cary Grant. A perfectionist, he could be a severe critic of his own work, battling Paramount studios and even himself over what he came to regard as shallow roles.

It was after leaving Paramount in 1937 and becoming an independent actor that Grant's career took off. He played opposite Hepburn and a leopard in "Bringing Up Baby" in 1938, and in the Rudyard Kipling adventure "Gunga Din" in 1939. In the 1940s, he starred in such major movies as "His Girl Friday" with Rosalind Russell, "My Favorite Wife" with Irene Dunne and "I Was a Male War Bride" with Ann Sheridan.

In one memorable scene in "The Philadelphia Story" in 1940, Grant stifled an urge to hit Hepburn in the nose, only to cover her face with his hand and shove her to the ground. Grant said his favorite actress was Ingrid Bergman, with whom he starred in "Notorious" in 1946 and "Indiscreet" in 1958.

During the 1950s, his career seemed to be winding down. Less memorable films of that time included "Monkey Business" with Marilyn Monroe. But in the mid-1950s he began to work with the director he came to admire above all others, Alfred Hitchcock. Grant's career gained new momentum with Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief."

Grant's later films included "Houseboat" in 1958 with Sophia Loren, "North by Northwest" in 1959 with Eva Marie Saint, "The Grass Is Greener" in 1960 with Deborah Kerr, "That Touch of Mink" in 1962 with Doris Day, "Charade" in 1963 with Audrey Hepburn, and "Father Goose" in 1964 with Leslie Caron.

If Grant's public life seemed one long effortless triumph, his private life was a stormy one. Four of his five marriages ended in divorce. His first marriage, to actress Virginia Cherrill in 1934, lasted 13 months before collapsing amid charges of physical abuse. His second marriage, to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, ended in 1945 after three years.

From 1949 to 1962, he was married to actress Betsy Drake. During the 1950s, Grant consulted a psychiatrist who treated him with LSD. Grant gave up alcohol and tobacco during this time through the use of hypnosis.

In 1965, he married actress Dyan Cannon. They had Grant's only child, a daughter Jennifer. During divorce proceedings, Cannon maintained that LSD use had rendered Grant "irrational and hostile" and unfit as a parent. After the divorce, Cannon said that what Grant wanted above all was happiness for his child.

In 1981, Grant married Barbara Harris, a former London hotel public relations director who was 47 years his junior.

Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on Jan. 18, 1904, in Bristol, England. He was an only child born of an unhappy marriage. His father was a clothes presser. His mother had a nervous breakdown when Grant was 12 years old and did not recover until after he became a star.

A rowdy and unsuccessful student, he ran away from home when he was 13 and joined a group of acrobats known as Pender's Comedians. Traveling to the United States in 1920, he left the troupe two years later and worked a series of odd jobs in New York. These included stints as a stilt walker on Coney Island and as a mime in slapstick vaudeville acts.

In 1927, he met Oscar Hammerstein II. He then got a part in the operetta "Golden Dawn" and a bit role in a Paramount one-reeler. After flunking a New York screen test, he traveled to California in 1931 and stood in for an actor during the screen test of a would-be actress. She was never heard of again, but Grant got a contract.

A week later, he moved in with another struggling actor, Randolph Scott. The two lived the bachelor life to the hilt for about 10 years. During his first year in movies, Grant managed to find the time to make seven films. By the time he had played opposite Mae West in "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel," he was a success as an actor.

He made the transition to star after he appeared in 1936 opposite Katharine Hepburn in "Sylvia Scarlett."

Though Grant had not made films for 20 years, he remained a legendary figure in the public eye until his death. He also continued to make money. He served on several corporate boards including Faberge perfume, Hollywood Park race track and Western Airlines. He owned the rights to many of his pictures.

He was often spotted at Hollywood social gatherings, including parties given by his friend Frank Sinatra. He was said to have left his four-acre Beverly Hills estate at least once a month to dine on that most British of delicacies, fish and chips.

He seldom exercised, and he maintained no strict diet. Yet, even with glasses and silver hair, Grant remained a legendary, almost ageless, figure. And he seemed to grow old comfortably in the role. One famous story has an editor sending him a telegram to inquire, "How old Cary Grant?" Grant is said to have replied, "Old Cary Grant fine, how you?"

He told reporters that he gave up movies to be close to his daughter while she was growing up. Grant said, "She's the most captivating girl I have ever known, and I have known quite a few." Also, he said, "I was tired. The type of role I was accustomed to play was no longer being written."

Grant confided that he seldom viewed his own movies. "When I see an old clip of myself, I sometimes wonder if that was really me in that scene. I never understood what people found interesting in me," he said.

Speaking of his struggle to come to terms with himself and his image, Grant said, "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. I want to be Cary Grant.

"I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, until, finally, I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point. It's a relationship," he said.

His survivors include his wife and daughter.