Charles Bronson was a film actor of American origin whose Hollywood career spanned almost 5 decades. He earned a reputation for playing “tough roles” in western/crime drama movies, either as a cop, vigilante, or gunslinger. The famous actor also had an illustrious 4-year career outside of the United States, during which he appeared in several European films. After his return to the United States in 1972, Bronson’s fame increased even further and he became one of the highest-paid Hollywood actors of his generation.
Charles Bronson’s Biography
Charles Bronson was born on November 2, 1921, as Charles Dennis Buchinsky in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. In the first years of his acting career, he changed his last name from Buchinsky to Bronson to make himself more marketable. His parents Mary (née Valinsky) and Valteris P. Bucinskis were both originally from Lithuania, and he was the eleventh 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 as a teenager.
Charles Bronson was the first member of his family to graduate high school and he began working in the coal mine at the age of 16. He served in the United States military during World War II and received a Purple Heart at the end of the war. He then joined a theater company in Philadelphia while working in various odd jobs to make a living. In 1950 he moved to Hollywood, where he enrolled in acting classes.
Bronson made his acting debut as an unappreciated extra in the 1951 war comedy You’re in the Navy Now, and he got several other minor roles in quick succession, including 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). His first notable role was in the western film Drum Beat (1954), in which he gave an impressive portrayal of the villainous Captain Jack.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Charles Bronson appeared in some crime and western films and also made guest appearances in television series of these genres. He portrayed the main character, Mike Kovac, in the two-season crime series “Man with a Camera” (1958-60) and took on other leading roles in low-budget films such as “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 in an episode of the CBS series General Electric Theater hosted by Ronald Reagan. Other notable film contributions include The Great Escape (1963), Guns of Diablo (1965), and The Sandpiper (1966).
Bronson’s first film outside Hollywood was the French film Adieu l’ami from 1968, which helped establish him as a star in Europe. Between 1968 and 1972 he appeared in several other European films, including Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Rider on the Rain (1970), which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film in Hollywood. After Charles Bronson achieved international fame in Europe, he became a much sought-after leading actor after his return to the USA in 1972.
He had the most remarkable role of his entire career as the leading actor in the action movie Death Wish (1974), which was a great success and eventually spawned 4 sequels starring Bronson in the leading roles. The iconic actor became a series box office hit, and from the mid-1970s to the 1990s he earned very high salaries. The final acting credits of his career were recorded in the three-part telefilm series Family of Cops (1995-99), in which he played the leading role of police commissioner Paul Fein.
Wife and Children
Charles Bronson was married to the aspiring actress Kim Weeks. The duo married in December 1998 and remained together until his death in August 2003. Before his union with Kim Weeks, Bronson was married twice. His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met in 1949 when both were aspiring actors. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1967 after 18 years. His second marriage was with the 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 the stepfather of Ireland’s 3 children from a previous union.
Charles Bronson ended his nearly 5 decades-long acting career in August 1998 after undergoing hip surgery. After his death in August 2003, the famous actor left behind a $48 million estate, including a house in Malibu, California, a beach house, and a ranch in Vermont.