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BRANDO: 1924 - 2004: Tonight, he sleeps with the angels; TRIBUTES POUR IN FOR FILM LEGEND.

Byline: ANTHONY HARWOOD in New York

MEAN, moody and magnificent - Marlon Brando was mourned last night as the greatest film actor of his generation.

The eccentric 80-year-old star died on Thursday at his shabby one-bedroom bungalow in Los Angeles where he had become a virtual recluse.

Paramedics went to the scene but he was pronounced dead at hospital.

The cause of death is believed to be pulmonary embolism. Brando's health had been failing since 2002 when he was struck down with pneumonia. He also had congestive heart failure.

Recently, the hugely overweight star, who binged on junk food as he slipped into decline, had sunk so much he was seen in a wheelchair breathing with an oxygen mask.

His lawyer, David Seeley said the official cause of death was being withheld because the actor was such a "very private man."

As fans grieved the death of a "rare diamond" whose huge talent was matched by the enigma of his tortured personality, Brando's biographer Peter Manso said: "He was a genius, a monster and a louse.

"He was reclusive, pained and self-destructive and his relationships with people tended to be awful. He lived in seclusion because he was angry and disappointed at the world. But he was truly the artist of his generation."

Brando was the original angry young man of film. In the 50s he electrified audiences with his "Method" acting in movies like The Wild One, A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront for which he won an Oscar in 1954.

After a slump, his career was revitalised with roles as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather in 1972 - for which he won his second Oscar - and crazed Colonel Kurtz in the Vietnam film Apocalypse Now in 1979.

But his personal life, in which he married three times and fathered 11 children, was blighted by tragedy.

His son Christian was jailed for manslaughter after shooting dead his pregnant sister Cheyenne's lover in 1988. Cheyenne hanged herself in 1995. The court battle left Brando with debts running into millions.

Always difficult to handle, the actor became increasingly wayward.

He slipped away from his nurse - who chained his fridge door - to gorge on junk food, raiding ice-cream freezers at his local supermarket. Astonishingly, he was said to have been pounds 11million in debt and living on social security. He was so scared of debt collectors he even hid his precious Oscars.

Yearning for solitude in death as much as in life, Brando wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered on the remote Pacific island of Tetiaroa, which he bought while filming Mutiny on the Bounty in 1962.

He ruled out a US burial because he did not want his grave to become a tourist attraction.

Tributes to Brando were led by his long-time friend and Godfather colleague James Caan. The "shocked" star said Brando "influenced more young actors of my generation than any other".

Robert Duvall said: "His memory will live for ever."

Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Apocalypse Now, said: "I hate people chiming in to give their comments. All I'll say is that I'm sad he's gone.''

US chat show host and friend Larry King said: "We'll never see his like. What an actor. We should judge people by their careers - and we'll never see a career like his again."

British actor Terence Stamp, who appeared with Brando in Superman, said: "He was a rare diamond. He had it all, yet didn't take himself or life too seriously. He was also the funniest guy and a joy to be with. 'Good night sweet prince'."

British film director Michael Winner, who directed Brando in the 1972 film The Nightcomers, added: "He was the most wonderful companion and a marvellous human.

"Claims he wasted his talent are rubbish. Although he had a reputation for being difficult he was the most professional actor I ever met. He just didn't like acting." Film critic Jason Solomons said: "Brando lived the life he portrayed as Kurtz. You could never get to the real Brando in life. Every actor I've met named him as the man who influenced them."

Movie expert Daniel Rosenthal said: "He had iconic status. People would flock to the cinema to see him rather than see him play a role. He reached that great peak."

Brando hated his celebrity because of the attention and autograph hunters it attracted.

The star - whose ramshackle house was dominated by shabby sofas and 1970s-style bead curtains - once said: "I've had so much misery in my life being famous and wealthy. One thing problematic about having celebrity is that you lose your identity.

"I don't think I even like being a movie star. No matter what I say or do, people mythologise me."

At the time of his death he was preparing to play himself in a British movie and to voice a character in the animated film Big Bug Man.

Producer Norma Heyman was in regular contact with Brando close to the end as she tried to get the star to appear in the Brit film. It was about a Tunisian boy whose village is taken over by a US film crew.

She said: "He was anxious about when it would be made. One assumes he knew he had a limited life span."

Associate producer Phil Symes added: "He may have been frail in body but he was very strong in his mind and very focused. He wanted this to be his last film. Afterwards, he planned to retire to Tahiti."

CAPTION(S):

THE LAST PICTURE; Ailing Brando is wheeled into LA medical centre in March; MR MEAN; Brando stunned movie audiences as rebel bike gang boss Johnny in hit 1953 film The Wild One; STAR: As Don Corleone
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 3, 2004
Words:956
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