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Friday, June 29, 2012

Obituary - LA Times

Cowboy Film Villain Lee Van Cleef Dies

Actor Lee Van Cleef, the steely eyed villain of American Westerns. who became an international star by playing the hero in Italian "spaghetti" Westerns of the 1960s died Saturday morning in Oxnard of an apparent heart attack. He was 64 years old.

Van Cleef, who had a long history of heart trouble, suffered a seizure at about 11:40 p.m. Friday at his home and was pronounced dead at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard shortly after midnight, according to the coroner's office.

From an obscure actor playing minor villain roles, Van Cleef was born Jan. 9,1925, stormed into international stardom after appearing opposite Clint Eastwood in Italian director Sergio Leone's "For a Few More Dollars."

By the early 1970s, Van Cleef had become one of the ten most popular box-office stars in Europe and had established himself as a cult figure. Some of his best known films include, "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" "Escape from New York," and Il Bruono, il Brutto, il Cattivo," or "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." In recent years, he had slipped out of the limelight, starring in such forgettable productions as the television show, "The Master," about a martial expert searching for his long-lost daughter, and the movie, "Killing Machine" with Margaux Hemingway.

Van Cleef was born Jan. 9,1925, in Somerville, N.J. After a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned home and acted in local theatrical productions.
In 1952, Van Cleef won his first film role as the sardonic killer who died in the showdown gunfight with Gary Cooper in the Western classic, High Noon." Van Cleef's cruel-looking hooked nose and demonic smile won him several villain roles afterwards. But it was in 1966 that Van Cleef was noticed by Leone, who was searching for actors with distinctive facial features to star in Italian-made Westerns.

"My story suddenly turned into a rags-to-riches saga," he said. "And just in time, too."

Los Angeles Times


  1. Thanks Aaron. It is interesting for fans to read. I went out and bought the LA times then. Also the New York Times, my local paper and Variety. It was in Variety that his agent confirmed Lee had a history of heart disease and sadly had just finished doing a TV commercial that will air later.

    I later found out that beer commercial was shot just about two weeks before Lee died. Nothing was said about Lee's throat cancer.

    I floated the idea to Alan Van Cleef when he was posting here that Lee's recent discovery of throat cancer and learning on the TV news that very night that his close friend Jock Mahoney had just died may have put the kind of stress on Lee's weak heart to cause the attack later that very night. Alan agreed. It was Alan Van Cleef who posted on your fine web-board that he father was watching TV and was shocked and stunned to learn on the local LA TV news that Jock Mahoney had just died. And that his father had just recently was told he had serious throat cancer (years of smoking? Richard Boone, a life long smoker died of throat cancer at age 63 earlier in the 1980's). Just a few hours AFTER the news of Jock's death, Lee suffered a heart attack and collapsed at his Oxnard home and was rushed to the local hospital where he was pronounced DOA. Alan said he got the phone call about 3 in the morning.

    1. Has any of Lee's children gone on to acting? Plus do they have Lee's famous good looks? I loved LVC's acting. I look forward to watching anything he acted in. My fav is "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Big Gundown". Linda