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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Obituary - Associated Press

Actor Lee Van Cleef, 62; played villains 
The Associated Press

OXNARD - Actor Lee Van Cleef, 64, whose steely eyes and hawk-like features led to a long career portraying archvillains in westerns, died early Saturday af-ter he collapsed at home, authorities said.

Mr. Van Cleef's film break came hen he was cast as Jack Colby, one of four desperadoes faced down by Gary Cooper in the 1952 movie 'High Noon." He later became a familiar gunslinger in so-called spaghetti westerns made by Italian director Sergio Leone, including "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Mr. Van Cleef suffered an apart heart attack at his Oxnard home at about 11:40 p.m. Friday, said Craig Stevens, a Ventura county deputy coroner.

Mr. Van Cleef's wife, Barbara, called paramedics and he was rushed to St. John's Regional Med-ical Center in Oxnard, where he as pronounced dead at 12:04 a.m., Stevens said.

In 1969, Mr. Van Cleef jokingly attributed his gunslinger casting in about 350 TV movies and motion pictures to his predatory nose.

"I didn't speak a word in 'High Noon,' " he recalled. "In 1951, Stanley and Earl Kramer saw me in a play, 'Mr. Roberts,' and of-fered me the role eventually played by Lloyd Bridges in the film, providing I would have my nose fixed. I refused and wound up as one of the four villains.

"Now people remember this beak," he said.

Tom Jennings, Mr. Van Cleef's agent, said his client's extended work in Italy and elsewhere in Europe hurt his Hollywood career.

"I think he could have been a greater movie star, as big as Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood, had he come back from Europe sooner than he did. But he liked working abroad," Jennings said. "He was always a bigger star everywhere else than in Hollywood."

Born Jan. 9,1925, of Dutch ancestry in Somerville, NJ, Mr. Van Cleef dropped out of high school to join the US Navy, where he served on sub chasers and mine sweepers. He was discharged in 1946.

He worked several odd jobs as a farmer, gas-station attendant, painter and accountant before as-suming his first stage role in a production of "Our Town" by an amateur troupe in Clinton, NJ.

New York producer and director Harold Anderson noticed Mr. Van Cleef in an amateur production of "Heaven Can Wait," and helped find him a place in the road company production of the World War I Navy comedy, "Mr. Roberts,' with Henry Fonda.

Mr. Van Cleef spent 14 months or the road with "Mr. Roberts" before making his first film appearance in "High Noon." He followed (with hundreds of black-hat roles and appeared in "How The West Was Won," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Death Rides a Horse."

His film career, however, had stalled when he was recruited by Leone to play in the 1965 Western ''For a Few Dollars More," starring Clint Eastwood as the man with no name.

Mr. Van Cleef changed hats for his role in the film, playing what he called "a non-angelic sort of character who's still on the side of the law."

Mr. Van Cleef recently had filmed a TV commercial for a Dutch beer company, Jennings said.

His last TV project was NBC's 1984 series "The Master," where he played an Air Force colonel who becomes a ninja martial arts expert in post-World War II Japan.


  1. The director of photography on the Dutch Beer commercial posted on YouTube that the commercial was shot in Fiddletown, California in a old bar that still had that oldtime western look. Said Lee was sick with throat cancer and died about two weeks after they shot this. Also said Lee was the fastest draw with a six gun they had ever seen and they had to slow him down as he was able to draw his six shooter from his gunbelt, aim and fire, in less than a frame of film.