Skip to main content /SHOWBIZ /SHOWBIZ

Two-time Oscar winner Anthony Quinn dies


PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (CNN) -- Actor Anthony Quinn, best remembered for roles in "Zorba the Greek" and "Lawrence of Arabia," died Sunday. He was 86.

The prodigious actor, whose work included more than 200 films, died Sunday morning at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where he had been in intensive care for 17 days.

He died of pneumonia with respiratory failure, said Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and a friend of the actor.

"He was a larger-than-life figure," Cianci said. "We're immensely sad here because he was part of our community." Quinn moved to nearby Bristol about seven years ago, Cianci said.

"He had no pretenses about him at all. He wasn't the Hollywood star that had so many different idiosyncrasies and so many different demands. He was just a guy who had a talent and didn't think he was very special at all. When he was your friend he was your friend, and he was truly a remarkable person."

Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Quinn dies. CNN's Cynthia Tornquist looks back at Quinn's life and career (June 3)

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

Quinn was born into a poor family on April 16, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico. His father was Irish and his mother Mexican.

As a boy, he moved with his family to East Los Angeles, where he worked odd jobs as a butcher, a boxer, a street-corner preacher and a slaughterhouse worker.

Quinn won a scholarship to study architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom he developed a close relationship and sparked a lifelong appreciation of art and architecture, Cianci said.

His film career began in 1936 with small roles and spanned six decades. In 1940, he signed with Paramount and played gangsters and Indians until 1940.

Quinn portrayed characters including kings, Indians, a pope, a boxer and an artist. "I never get the girl," Quinn once joked in an interview. "I wind up with a country instead."

During the war, he worked mostly at Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, returning to Paramount in 1942 to play an Arab sheik in "Road to Morocco" with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

He co-starred as a Filipino guerilla with John Wayne in "Back to Bataan" in 1945.

Quinn and his first wife, Katherine, the adopted daughter of pioneer filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, starred together in "Black Gold" (1947), in which he played a proud, kind Indian who discovers oil on his property, a role that movie critic Leonard Maltin said was one of his best.

In 1952, Quinn won his first Academy Award playing the brother of a Mexican revolutionary (Marlon Brando) in "Viva Zapata!"

He also replaced Brando in the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

After that, he starred in "La Strada," the 1954 Fellini film in which he played a thuggish, slow-witted tough guy who toured with an acrobat. The movie won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

In 1956, he played artist Paul Gauguin in "Lust for Life," which won him his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The following year he played Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

An attempt at directing with the 1958 remake of "The Buccaneer" proved to be a critical and commercial failure.

A craggy face and extra pounds served him well in 1962 for his role as the former prizefighter in "Requiem for a Heavyweight." That year, he also played a Bedouin chieftain in "Lawrence of Arabia."

In "Requiem" Quinn's character was battered by Cassius Clay, playing himself. The young boxer would later change his name to Muhammad Ali.

"He kicked the heck out of me," Quinn said in 1997.

In 1964, he earned another Academy Award nomination for the starring role in "Zorba the Greek." To many, Quinn's Oscar-nominated characterization of the Greek peasant Zorba remained his most memorable role.

The Ouzo-drinking and bouzouki-dancing Zorba was Quinn's favorite role as well, so much so that he returned to the stage in 1983 in a revival of the musical inspired by the film.

"He was motivated by the passion for his art," said Irene Nagy Dessewffy, a friend of Quinn's who produced art shows and publications featuring his work. "I saw 29 opening nights of Zorba, and other productions in between, and every single night it was as if it were the first time. He did it with a passion.

"He was constantly drawing, or constantly writing, or constantly sketching. He never stopped," Dessewffy added. "He was never doing nothing."

But after leading roles became less frequent, he left Hollywood to live and work in Italy.

"What could I play there? They only think of me as a Mexican, an Indian or a Mafia don," he said in a 1977 interview with The Associated Press.

For most of the 1990s, Quinn lived in Bristol, Rhode Island, outside Providence, where he contributed his name to a variety of charities. He traveled frequently and had recently discussed the possibility of shooting a movie in Puerto Rico, Cianci said.

He had also returned to his love of art, working as a sculptor, painter and jewelry designer.

He is survived by his sister, Stella, his wife, Katherine, and 13 children, ages 4 to 60.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

See related sites about Entertainment
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top