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Actor Rod Steiger Dies at 77

Aired July 9, 2002 - 14:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Within the past 30 minutes, we reported to you that actor Rod Steiger has passed. He died in an L.A. area hospital. He was 77 years old.

You may remember the actor. He was in more than 100 movies, "Dr. Zhivago," "Oklahoma," "On The Waterfront." He got an Oscar for "In The Heat of the Night." He died of kidney failure and pneumonia.

Someone who knows his career very well is Glenn Kenny. He is with us on the phone from New York. He is a chief film critic with "Premiere" magazine. Glenn, let's talk a little bit about his life.

GLENN KENNY, "PREMIERE" MAGAZINE: Well, Steiger was very interesting in that he was one of the most distinctive actors you would ever see on a screen but also, at the same time, one of the most versatile. People think of him as often playing a very gruff and tough sort of character, like the character of Charlie, the older brother of Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront," who Brando delivers the " I could of been a contender" speech to.

But there are also a lot of film roles that he did during the '60s and '70s where he played different types of people. In the '68 film "No Way to Treat a Lady," for example, he played a strangler who is also a master of disguise. And although he was known for playing tough guys with a very sort of hard-shelled exterior, he was able to vary that persona in a lot of different ways and achieve prominence during the '60s in a way that a lot of character actors would not have. He was as big a star as any matinee idol or handsome sort of movie star such as Paul Newman, for example.

PHILLIPS: Now, he quit high school to join the Navy during World War II. When exactly did he get involved with acting and theater? How did that all play in?

KENNY: Well, like so many -- like so many actors of his generation, he -- after serving, he came to New York and he studied at the Actor's Studio, which is where Lee Strausberg (ph) taught. And -- I am sorry. It was not the actor's studio. It was the New York Theater Workshop. But, you know, during that era, the post-war era, New York was a great hotbed of experimentation and new techniques for acting.

And, you know, his generation were people like Paul Newman and James Dean and so on and so forth. And it was -- you know, acting was not seen as necessarily not a manly profession. So going into it was -- it was, you know, not considered to be terribly demeaning or anything like that. But because of his physical type, he was able to portray a lot of, you know, very -- guys who were very much like a lot of the people he might have encountered in the Army. And he was in several very memorable war films.

PHILLIPS: Well, memorable for his films, also memorable personally. Talk to us a little bit about his character and what he was like as a person and his family.

KENNY: I think that he was always -- I think especially towards the ends of his life, he was a little, not resentful, but a little wistful about being typecast as a tough guy. I mean, he was after all, married to Claire Bloom, who was a British actress of some distinction. And it is -- you know, if you read his interviews towards the later part of his life, he seems very nostalgic and wistful and also wishing for the days when movies were a little more daring and a little more exciting.

And he once described himself as being 60 percent artist and 40 percent, what's the impolite word for prostitute. But, you know...

PHILLIPS: I don't think there is.

KENNY: Yes. Towards the end of the his life, he was doing a lot of work just because of in a lot of cases, probably just because of the work, because he was actor's actor. And if you were to ask him to justify, you know, being in a movie like the Schwarzenegger bomb "End of Days," he would probably tell you that's what I do. Actors act. And he continued to act until the very end of his life.

PHILLIPS: Glen Kenny, New York chief film critic with "Premiere" magazine. Thank you so much, as we remember actor Rod Steiger's life. He passed away today at age 77.

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