Charles Bronson was a film actor of American origin whose Hollywood career spanned nearly 5 decades. He earned a reputation for playing ‘tough roles’ in western/crime drama films, either as a policeman, vigilante or gunfighter. The iconic actor also had an illustrious 4-year stint outside of the United States during which he starred in several European movies. Upon his return to the US in 1972, Bronson’s profile soared even higher and he became one of the highest paid Hollywood actors of his generation.
Charles Bronson’s Biography
Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky on November 2, 1921, in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. He changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson during the early years of his acting career in a bid to make himself more saleable. His parents Mary (née Valinsky) and Valteris P. Bučinskis were both originally from Lithuania and he was the 11th child of the family’s 15 children. As a young child, his first languages were Lithuanian and Russian but he eventually learned to speak English during his teenage years.
Charles Bronson was the first member of his family to finish high school and he started working in the coal mine from the age of 16. He served in the United States Military during World War II and he received a Purple Heart when the war ended. Afterward, he joined a Philadelphia-based theatrical group while working several odd jobs to support himself. He relocated to Hollywood in 1950 where he enrolled for acting classes.
Bronson marked his acting debut as an uncredited extra in the 1951 war comedy film You’re in the Navy Now. He landed several other minor roles in quick succession as he featured in The Mob (1951), The People Against O’Hara (1951), Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952), Battle Zone (1952), Pat and Mike (1952), Diplomatic Courier (1952), My Six Convicts (1952), The Marrying Kind (1952) and Red Skies of Montana (1952). He had his first notable role in the western film Drum Beat (1954) in which he gave an impressive portrayal of the villainous Captain Jack.
All through the 1950s and 1960s, Charles Bronson appeared in several Crime and Western films and also recorded guest appearances in TV series of such genres. He portrayed the lead character Mike Kovac in the 2-season long crime drama series Man with a Camera (1958-60) and recorded more lead roles in low-budget films like Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), Gang War (1958), When Hell Broke Loose (1958) and Showdown at Boot Hill (1959).
He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1961 for his guest role on an episode of the CBS series General Electric Theater hosted by Ronald Reagan. Other notable film credits include The Great Escape (1963), Guns of Diablo (1965) and The Sandpiper (1966).
Bronson’s first film outside Hollywood was the 1968 French film Adieu l’ami which helped to establish him as a star in Europe. He appeared in several other Europeans films between 1968 and 1972 including Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Rider on the Rain (1970) which won a Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Having found international fame in Europe, Charles Bronson became a highly sought leading man upon his return to the US in 1972.
He had the most notable role of his entire career as the lead actor of the action film Death Wish (1974) which was a massive hit and it ultimately spawned 4 sequels with Bronson starring in all. The iconic actor became a serial box office star and he commanded very high salaries from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. He recorded the final acting credits of his career in the three-part telefilm series Family of Cops (1995-99) in which he played the lead role of police commissioner Paul Fein.
Charles Bronson ended his nearly 5-decade long acting career in August 1998 after undergoing a hip replacement surgery. Upon his death in August 2003, the iconic actor left an estate valued at $48 million including a house in Malibu, California, a beach house and a ranch in Vermont.
Wife and Children
Charles Bronson was married to a budding actress Kim Weeks. The duo got married in December 1998 and remained together until his death in August 2003. Bronson had been married twice prior to his union with Kim Weeks. His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler whom he met in 1949 when they were both aspiring actors. Their marriage ended in a divorce in 1967 after 18 years. His second marital union was with English actress Jill Ireland. Their marriage lasted from 1968 to 1990 when Ireland died of breast cancer.
Bronson had 4 children during his lifetime; 2 from his first marriage, a son named Tony Bronson and a daughter Suzanne Bronson. With his second wife Jill Ireland, he had a daughter named Zuleika Bronson (born in August 1971) and they also adopted another daughter Katrina Holden Bronson (born in April 1968). He was also a stepfather to Ireland’s 3 children from an earlier union.