Charles Bronson was probably best known for his vigilante role in the Death Wish film series, but he also had memorable roles in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen..
He was born Charles Buchinsky on 3 November 1921, one of 15 children of a Lithuanian coal miner. He worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania at the age of 16 where he was paid one dollar for each ton of coal he dug. The experience was tough, and would have been his life, had it not been for the second world war draft, in which he served as a tail-gunner for the US navy
On his return from the war, Bronson joined the Pasadena Playhouse and started acting. However, he soon became typecast as a tough criminal thugs and hoodlums; an Italian newspaper nicknamed him "Il Brutto", the ugly one. With this limitation in his prospective roles, he knew it would be difficult to progress beyond smaller bit parts.
His first lucky break was in You're In The Navy Now (1951) because he could belch on cue. And he blacked up to play native American warriors - in Drum Beat (1954) and Jubal (1956).
It was not until 1960 that he came to prominence in The Magnificent Seven, alongside Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. He followed this with The Great Escape and The Sandpiper. In 1967, Bronson starred as one of The Dirty Dozen.
He then focused on European Cinema with a number of successes including Adieu, L'Ami (1968) which grossed $6m in France alone. This movie made him extremely popular with European audiences, but it was never released in the US. In 1971, he had another huge foreign success with Red Sun; almost never seen in the States, and that year he was awarded the accolade of the world's most popular actor. Along with Red Sun, Someone Behind the Door (1971) and The Valachi Papers (1972) all did well.
But his biggest success came in 1974 - producer Michael Winner used the reticent, hard, understated character of Bronson for the first of his Death Wish series. The films were an important benchmark for cinema, for the first time audiences rooted for the violent hero, as it introduced the idea of justified violence.The series relied on the appeal of the humanity of Bronson's central figure, who was determined to seek vengeance for an attack on his family.
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