LOS ANGELES (AP) - Red Buttons, the carrot-topped burlesque comedian who became a top star in early television then went dramatic to win the 1957 Oscar as supporting actor in "Sayonara," died Thursday. He was 87.
Buttons died of vascular disease at his home in the Century City area of Los Angeles, publicist Warren Cowan said. He had been ill for some time, and was with family members when he died, Cowan said.
With his eager manner and rapid-fire wit, Buttons excelled in every phase of show business, from the Borscht Belt of the 1930s to celebrity roasts in the 1990s.
His greatest achievement came with his "Sayonara" role as Sgt. Joe Kelly, the soldier in the occupation forces in Japan whose romance with a Japanese woman (Myoshi Umeki, who also won an Academy Award) ends in tragedy.
Josh Logan, who directed the James Michener story that starred Marlon Brando, was at first hesitant to cast a well-known comedian in such a somber role.
"The tests were so extensive that they could just put scenery around them and release the footage as a feature film," Buttons remarked.
Buttons' Academy Award led to other films, both dramas and comedies. They included "Imitation General," "The Big Circus," "Hatari!" "The Longest Day," "Up From the Beach," "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" "The Poseidon Adventure," "Gable and Lombard" and "Pete's Dragon."
A performer since his teens, Buttons was noticed by burlesque theater owners and he became the youngest comic on the circuit. He had graduated to small roles on Broadway before being drafted in 1943.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press