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Variety a hallmark of Lloyd Bridges' career

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Actor dies at 85

March 11, 1998
Web posted at: 1:35 p.m. EST (1835 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- An actress who once starred with Lloyd Bridges described him Wednesday as a "gentleman," and said he will be missed. Bridges -- the patriarch of a three- generation family of actors -- died of natural causes Tuesday at his home.

vxtreme CNN's Gloria Hilliard looks at Lloyd Bridges' life

His wife Dorothy, son Beau and daughter Cindy were at his side. The 85-year-old actor had suffered from a heart condition since 1992.

"We all feel really blessed to have been with my dad for these 85 years," Beau Bridges said outside the home. "If dad could speak to those people who are thinking about him right now, he would want you to all think about family."

Although Bridges was perhaps best known to audiences as Mike Nelson in the 1950s TV series "Sea Hunt," the California native was trained as a classical actor, making his Broadway debut in the 1930s in a modern-dress version of "Othello."

Career halted briefly

Star
A candle is placed near Bridges' Hollywood star  

From Broadway, he went to Hollywood, where -- starting in 1941 -- he became a fixture in western films. Later, he did science fiction and action movies. The craggy-faced Bridges was known as one of Hollywood's hardest-working actors: He did dozens of films during his career.

One of his best-known performances was as Gary Cooper's vengeful deputy in "High Noon" in 1952. Other important roles followed, until he was caught in Hollywood's Red purge.

During the 1940s, Bridges briefly was a member of the Actors' Lab, a radical theater group with ties to the Communist Party that staged plays in Hollywood. At the height of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Bridges' name was added to the show business blacklist.

His name was later cleared after he cooperated as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was probing communist influence in the film industry.

'Sea Hunt' nearly sunk

Scene from
Bridges in "Sea Hunt"  

In 1957, Bridges took the role that changed his career: Mike Nelson, a Navy frogman-turned-undersea investigator in "Sea Hunt." The networks turned down the series as being too limited in scope, so producer Ivan Tors offered it in syndication a year later. Soon it drew bigger ratings than the network shows and lasted for 156 episodes.

Bridges also starred in "The Lloyd Bridges Show" and in the miniseries "The Blue and the Gray," "Roots," "East of Eden" and "George Washington."

When possible, he worked with his family. Sons Beau and Jeff started acting as youngsters on "Sea Hunt" and became stars in their own right. In 1988, Bridges appeared with Jeff in "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," and had a recurring role on Beau's 1993 television series "Harts of the West."

And he appeared with grandson Dylan Bridges in a 1995 episode of "The Outer Limits."

A knack for comedy

It was late in life when he discovered his knack for comedy, playing a drug-addled air traffic controller in "Airplane!" He later appeared in its sequel and in the military spoofs "Hot Shots!" and "Hot Shots! Part Deux," and had a recurring spot as the zany Izzy Mandelbaum in "Seinfeld."

Actress Shirley Jones, a longtime friend who played Bridges' girlfriend in the 1969 made-for-TV movie "Silent Night, Lonely Night," said he stood out for his kindness and integrity, as well as his acting.

"He could combine comedy and drama and play a villain. He was a wonderful villain and a western star," she said. "He was such a fine actor, a giving actor and a gentleman -- and a lot of actors aren't. I miss him dearly."

Strong sense of family

Bridges and wife
Bridges and his wife Dorothy  

But Bridges credited his wife of more than 55 years, actress Dorothy Simpson, with helping him build one of Hollywood's longest-running careers.

In a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "My career, what there is, didn't happen that easy. Thought I'd never get in the door. But I married someone who had faith in me. It helped. That's where a good marriage comes in."

He also said that the best lesson he could teach his sons was that if you're doing something you really love, you can do it forever.

"I really exist when I'm working as an actor, and next to my family, that's my greatest joy in life," he said.

The family planned a private service. In lieu of flowers, they asked that people donate to Bridges' favorite projects: the American Oceans Campaign, Whales Alive, Heal the Bay and the Earth Trust.

Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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