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At the height of his career in show business he was one of Hollywood's most recognized faces. He also became a sex symbol to millions of women. Actor Tony Curtis, who appeared in over 120 movies during the course of his seven decades on the screen, died yesterday from a heart attack at the age of 85.
Curtis' most well-known role was as a 1920s jazz musician on the lam from gangsters in Billy Wilder's 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot. Paired opposite Jack Lemmon, the two dressed up as women and joined an all-female band to hide from the bad guys. Curtis' character had a romantic attraction to Marilyn Monroe in the film. Off-screen, the actor also enjoyed an affair with the blonde starlet. In fact, Curtis began to cultivate a reputation as a ladies man and lothario, a fact that destroyed several of his six marriages throughout the course of his life and estranged him from his children.
In 1951 Curtis married Janet Leigh. Two years later the two starred together in Houdini, the first of six movies that they would make together. Of the two children born from their union, their daughter Jamie Lee Curtis decided to follow her parents' career and become an actress.
In 1958 Curtis received an Academy Award nomination for a white convict chained to a black con in The Defiant Ones. At the time of the movie race relations in America were undergoing a transformation. The Defiant Ones made history because it was the first motion picture to give equal billing to a white actor and a black one (Sydney Poitier).
After playing the lead in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 movie Spartacus, Curtis' career took a turn and he began appearing in more and more light comedies, often ones that cashed in on the cheesecake factor. B-movie roles followed him in the 1970s (Sextette, Mission: Monte Carlo, The Manitou) and got even worse in the 80s (Lobster Man From Mars, Tarzan in Manhattan). Around this time he decided to seriously pursue painting and suddenly a second career opened up for Tony Curtis. His art began to be noticed and given accolades, and even displayed in the Museum of Modern Art.
Two years ago Curtis released his memoirs, American Prince, chronicling his turbulent relationships, loves, career highs and crashes. In it he wrote, "All my life I had one dream and that was to be in the movies." And in that regard, he did.
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