BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) – Actor James Coburn, who took on the tough-guy role in such films as "Our Man Flint" and "The Magnificent Seven," but whose anguished portrayal of an abusive father in "Affliction" finally earned him an Oscar, died Monday. He was 74.
Coburn died of a heart attack at home while listening to music with his wife, said his manager, Hillard Elkins.
Coburn won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for the 1998 film after overcoming a 10-year struggle with arthritis that left one hand crippled.
Despite those earlier physical problems he had been upbeat and working regularly, Elkins said Monday night. Most recently, he appeared in the new film "The Man From Elysian Fields" and finished another called "American Gun."
"And I have five or six scripts I've got to get out of my office because he can't shoot them now," said Elkins, his voice breaking.
Born in Laurel, Neb., on Aug. 31, 1928, Coburn studied acting in Los Angeles and with Stella Adler in New York
He appeared on stage in New York and in such dramatic television series as "Studio One" and "General Electric Theatre" in the 1950s.
He made his movie debut in "Ride Lonesome" in 1959, following it with another Western, "Face of a Fugitive," the same year.
He caught the public's attention the following year, when he played knife-throwing Britt in the epic Western "The Magnificent Seven."
Although he had few lines compared with his other macho co-stars, who included Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen, film historian Leonard Maltin noted Coburn's mere screen presence grabbed the public's attention.
"He was a guy who looked like he was casual, but he studied and he worked and he understood character," Elkins said of Coburn's success.
"He was a hell of an actor, he had a great sense of humor and those performances will be remembered for a very long time," he added.
After "The Magnificent Seven," Coburn played sidekicks and villains until the late 1960s when he cashed in on the James Bond mania with the humorous spy spoofs "Our Man Flint" and "In Like Flint."
He also won acclaim for such films as "The President's Analyst," which he also produced, the World War II escape epic "The Great Escape" and "Goldengirl."
In the 1980s he all but disappeared from the screen with the onset of arthritis. He said he "healed himself" with pills that had a sulfur base. His knuckles remained gnarled, but he said in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press that the pain was gone.
He said then, when the film roles weren't coming, "I've been reading a lot of stuff. I want to go to work. It's what I do best; it's the only thing I can really do."
"Actors are boring when they're not working, it's a natural condition, because they don't have anything to do, they just lay around and that's why so many of them get drunk. They really get to be boring people. My wife will attest to that," he said with a hearty laugh.
His health restored, he worked steadily through the '90s, appearing in such wide-ranging fare as "Young Guns II," "The Nutty Professor," "The Cherokee Kid" and "Maverick."
After winning a reputation for his leading roles, he capped his career with an Oscar for a supporting effort in "Affliction," as Glen Whitehouse, the abusive father to Nick Nolte's cop character in "Affliction."
It was his only Oscar nomination, and it came after scores of films. In all, he made more than 100.
"I've been working and doing this work for, like, over half my life and I finally got one right I guess," he said in his acceptance speech.
"Some of them you do for money, some of them you do for love," he added. "This is a love child."
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press