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Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart dead at 89

graphic July 2, 1997
Web posted at: 4:19 p.m. EDT (2019 GMT)

(CNN) -- Jimmy Stewart, one of the most beloved and esteemed actors in the history of film, died Wednesday at age 89, according to his longtime agent, Mort Viner. He died of cardiac arrest at his Beverly Hills home, a Daily Variety columnist said.

In his life and his films Stewart upheld the values and ideals of the traditional American. A case in point was the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," where he played a young senator exposing corruption.

vxtreme CNN's BILL TUSH reports.

With his gangly manner and understated country boy way of speaking, Stewart started his career as an unlikely success story. He went onto appear in 75 films and also achieved success as a director and war hero.

An amateur magician and accordionist during boyhood, he graduated from Princeton and starred in such groundbreaking films as Frank Capra's Christmas-time classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Philadelphia Story," for which he won an Academy Award.

Jimmy Stewart

"I've sort of gotten into the habit of looking for the vulnerable guy, the guy who makes mistakes, the guy who can't figure things out all the time but keeps at it," Stewart said.

Stewart flew bombing missions over Germany, rising from the rank of private to full colonel during World War II. He flew 20 combat missions, and until his retirement in 1968 was a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, the highest-ranking entertainer in the U.S. military. In the 1970s, he lost a son in Vietnam.

During the 1950s Stewart set a trend actors still follow today. He realized he could work for a percentage of the movie profits, a move that proved fortuitous when Alfred Hitchcock signed him up for "Vertigo" and "Rear Window." The films went on to become box office hits and classics.

Gloria Stewart

Although frequently cast with some of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies, Stewart remained a bachelor until he was 41. He and his wife, Gloria, aligned themselves with various conservative and political groups and received numerous awards.

In the last years of his life he protested the colorization of black and white films like "It's a Wonderful Life," lobbied for the humane treatment of animals and raised money for charity with the Jimmy Stewart marathon.

Reserved and self-effacing, he was more likely to credit his directors than his own talent.

"Hollywood dishes out too much praise for small things," Stewart once said. "I won't let it get me, but too much praise can turn a fellow's head if he doesn't watch his step."

Correspondent Bill Tush contributed to this report


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