Family and Friends Say Goodbye to Tony Curtis
By PopEater / Wire Services Posted Oct 4th 2010 05:28PM
The 85-year-old Oscar-nominated actor who starred in such films as "The Defiant Ones" and "Some Like It Hot" died Wednesday at his home in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, after suffering cardiac arrest.
More than 400 celebrities, fans, friends and family members gathered to say goodbye at a public funeral service Monday in Las Vegas honoring Curtis' life.
The funeral was to be followed by the burial and then a reception for 200 invited guests at the Luxor hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
A montage of Curtis' famous film roles opened the sometimes solemn, sometimes mirthful farewell service attended by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Jamie Lee Curtis, porn star Ron Jeremy and Vera Goulet, widow of Broadway singer Robert Goulet. The crowd laughed as an animated Curtis appeared in a scene from the television series "The Flintstones" and sparred with actor Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus."
Friends and fans lined up outside Palm Mortuary & Cemetery well before the funeral, with more than a dozen photographers and television journalists watching the scene. Inside, seven colorful paintings and three black-and-white drawings by Curtis stood on easels while a photo of the young, dark-haired actor was projected on a screen. The coffin was draped with an American flag.
Saying Goodbye to Tony
Jamie Lee Curtis, right, hugs her sister, Kelly Curtis during the funeral for their father, Tony, on Monday, Oct. 4, in Las Vegas. Tony Curtis died last Wednesday at his home in Henderson, Nev.
Tony Curtis Through the Years
Jamie Lee Curtis, Curtis' daughter from his first marriage with "Psycho" actress Janet Leigh, teared up as she described a man who was, she said, "a little mashugana" - Yiddish for crazy - but always full of life.
"All of us got something from him. I, of course, got his desperate need for attention," she joked.
The father and daughter were estranged for a long period but eventually reconciled. Curtis took pride in his daughter's on-screen credits that include "Perfect," ''Halloween," ''True Lies" and new comedy "You Again."
Rabbi Mel Hecht called Schwarzenegger to the front of the room for an impromptu farewell. The Austrian native recalled Curtis as a generous mentor who encouraged his budding Hollywood career when others told him his foreign accent and name were too much of a handicap.
Curtis, whose native Bronx accent initially earned him similar criticism, could sympathize.
"You are going to make it," Schwarzenegger recalled Curtis telling him. "Don't pay any attention to those guys. I heard the same thing when I came here."
Schwarzenegger said Curtis refused to feel old.
"I mean, who has the guts to take off their clothes at the age of 80?" Schwarzenegger said, recalling Curtis' naked photo shoot in Vanity Fair in 2005.
Curtis' sixth wife, Jill Curtis, eulogized her husband of 12 years. She recalled how he easily dismissed their 45-year age difference when friends asked if he was worried about keeping up with a younger wife.
"If she dies, she dies," she said her husband would deadpan in reply.
She recalled his simple loves: Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Splenda and white clothes. She urged family and friends to dwell not on his death, but on his extraordinary life.
"He was, as one fan put it, a once-in-a-lifetime man," she said.
Hecht led the room in a series of Jewish prayers.
"He is one of those greats of our culture and our society who you always knew, regardless of what character he was playing, that he was Tony Curtis," Hecht said.
Known for his transformation from a pigeonholed pretty boy in the late 1940s and early '50s to a serious actor, Curtis reshaped himself over decades of work and made himself impossible to typecast. The metamorphosis was completed in 1957's "Sweet Smell of Success," in which he played a sleazy press agent manipulated by a ruthless newspaper columnist (Burt Lancaster).
In person, Curtis loved giving friends and fans extra touches that made their face-to-face moments more memorable, longtime friend and pallbearer Gene Kilroy told The Associated Press.
"He had a certain way of making everybody feel like they were Spartacus," Kilroy said.
Kilroy, an executive at Luxor, said billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, actor Kirk Douglas and singer Phyllis McGuire were among seven honorary pallbearers.
Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent. He instead became a tailor, relocating the family repeatedly as he sought work.
"I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids," Curtis recalled in 1959. "I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block."
Curtis suffered tragedy at age 12 when his younger brother was killed in a traffic accident. Finding refuge in movies, he would ditch school to catch matinees starring Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and other screen idols.
After serving on a submarine during World War II, he enrolled in drama school on the G.I. Bill and was doing theater work when an agent lined up an audition with Universal, where he signed a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week at age 23.
The studio gave him the name Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. He later shortened it to Tony Curtis.
As his big-screen star faded in the 1960s, Curtis remolded himself as a character actor and turned to television with the 1970s action series "The Persuaders," co-starring Roger Moore, and a recurring role on the crime drama "Vegas."
Curtis earned an Emmy nomination in 1980 as producer David O. Selznick in the "Gone With the Wind" chronicle "The Scarlett O'Hara War."
He also turned to writing with a 1977 novel, "Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow" and 1993's "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography."
Curtis remained vigorous following heart bypass surgery in 1994, although his health declined in recent years.
As the funeral ended Monday, a second film reel flashed before the crowd.
The montage finished with the words "The End" cast on an image of Curtis shaking his head, as if he were disputing his own epilogue.
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