What Happened to Charles Bronson?

Charles Bronson  
A true rags to riches story. Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky on the 3rd of November 1921 in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, Bronson was the 11th of 15 children born to Lithuanian immigrants. His Father was Valteris Bučinskis, who called himself Walter to sound more American. His mother was Mary Valinsky. Walter was a coal miner by trade, working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. The family was extremely poor. Charles said when he started school, clothes in his family were scarce. He was teased and made fun of sometimes by the other children. He sometimes would have to pull off his socks after school so that his older brother could wear them into the mines. Charles only spoke Lithuanian and Russian at home. He was a teenager before he could actually speak good English. At the age of 10, Charles's father, Walter passed away, and six years later, at the age of 16, Charles went to work in the mines with his older brother. At a young age Charles showed lots of talent in being able to draw pictures. He was always the one that the teachers called on to draw Thanksgiving and Christmas pictures for the class. He said his talents just came natural. Charlie Bronson was the first to finish high school. He graduated in 1939 from South Park High School in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania Charlie is on the far right on the second row. From 16 to 20 he worked in the mines where he developed claustrophobia and had to quit. He worked odd jobs helping his family and mother to make a living until 1943 when he was drafted into the military. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He had plenty to eat and clean clothes to wear. He was assigned as a truck driver in a Mess Squadron, stationed in Kingman, Arizona. But by 1945 he had been assigned to the 61st Bombardment Squadron stationed on Guam. After training, he served as an aerial gunner on a B-29 Boeing Superfortress, flying missions over Japanese home Islands, receiving a purple heart for wounds received during battle.
He was shot in the left arm by a Japanese fighter pilot, leaving him with permanent scars. After the war, Bronson held odd jobs from short-order-cook to bricklayer, even rented beach chairs in Atlantic City and there he met vacationing actors from a troupe in Philadelphia. They were impressed with his artistic abilities and offered him a job painting and designing sets and doing a little acting. 

When he learned how much money actors were making, he said, "I can do that." He once stated, that he only became an actor not for the craft, but to make a lot of money. 

In 1947, while still in Philadelphia, he meets Harriet Tendler. She was also trying her hand at acting. She was 18 and Charlie was 26. On their first date, she said, "He had four cents in his pocket." She knew because he showed her. 

Two years later, on the 30th of September, 1949, they were married at the City Hall Club in Atlantic City. That same year with two hundred and fifty dollars and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket, the couple moved to California. Harriet worked and supported her and Charlie while he searched for acting jobs. The agreement was she would work and support him, and then when Charlie made it as an actor, he would help her. He used the GI Bill and eventually enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse. While there, he got a break when his teacher introduced him to director, Henry Hathaway. 

In 1951, Hathaway gave him his first unaccredited role in You're In The Navy Now, that was starring Gary Cooper. It also was the debut film for actor Lee Marvin. Now that same year, Bronson played as a boxer and boxed with Cowboy Western Star, Roy Rogers, in The Knockout. 

In 1953, Bronson played the mute henchman, Igor, in The House Of Wax, that starred Vincent Price. 

In 1953, Bronson made a strong showing as an Indian warrior in Drum Beat, that starred Alan Ladd. Also in 1954, the House on Un-American Activities was blacklisting actors that showed any sympathy with the Communist party. Charlie's agent had become concerned because of Buchinsky sounding too Russian and suggested that he change his screen name. It has been said that he picked the name, Bronson, off a street sign near the studio to be more American. That same year while filming the Western, Vera Cruz, in Mexico, Bronson and fellow actor Ernest Borgnine decided that they'd ride into town, dressed in costume, guns and all. They were stopped and questioned by the federales, thinking that they were real outlaws. It took a lot of convincing before they would let them go. 

On February the 27th, 1955, the Bronson's had their first child, daughter Suzanne. And during the '50s, Bronson will appear in numerous TV shows such as Gunsmoke. He was the Apache kid on The Sheriff Of Cochise. He played an outlaw on Colt 45. He appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Bronson did five episodes in Have Gun Will Travel, with Richard Boone. All totaled in his career, Bronson made over 80 TV appearances. 

In 1958, Charles Bronson gained his first lead role in a motion picture, Machine Gun Kelly, and he was paid $5,000 for his part. His next role was also a lead role in a World War II film, When Hell Broke Loose. 
In 1958, Bronson was asked to play in an ABC detective series, Man With A Camera. It lasted for two years until 1960. He was paid $2,000 per week for the 29 episodes. Producer, Warren Lewis, who had hired Bronson for the TV series, lent the actor $30,000 dollars for a down payment on a house at 3053 Motor Drive in Cheviot Hills, California. in 1960, Bronson was asked by Director John Sturges to be one of The Magnificent Seven, a group of gunfighters, determined to protect the town's defenseless peasants. Starring with Bronson was Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz and Eli Wallach. Wallach stated that Bronson was a loner and mostly stayed by himself during filming. Bronson once stated that he didn't need friends; He had thousands of acquaintances, but his family was his friends. Charles received $50,000 for his role in The Magnificent Seven. 

And, in 1961, Charles and Harriet had their second child, Tony. Charlie named Tony, Anthony Charles Bronson, after his young brother that had died from heart disease as a teenager. 

In 1962, again, John Sturges cast Bronson, along with fellow actors, Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn and David McCallum in The Great Escape. He portrayed a Polish prisoner of war that was claustrophobic. Perfect role for Bronson because he was also claustrophobic from working in the mines at an early age. While working on The Great Escape, Bronson will become friends with film actor David McCallum, known for his part on TV's Man From Uncle. Bronson, for the first time, wIll meet his second wife to be. Actress Jill Ireland, who was at that time, married to David McCallum. It has been said that when McCallum introduced Bronson to his wife, Bronson told David, "Someday, I'm going to marry your wife." At that time it was taken as a joke. He did marry Ireland, but it was six years later. The same year as The Great Escape. Bronson was paired with the "King of Rock & Roll", Elvis Presley, in Kid Galahad. Bronson liked Elvis and Elvis liked Bronson. They both were from extremely poor backgrounds and they could relate to one another. 

In 1964, Charles starred with Kurt Russell and Susan Oliver in the Guns Of Diablo. The next year, in 1965, Charles Bronson's wife, Harriet, filed for divorce after a private detective she had hired convinced her that Charles was seeing other women. They had been drifting apart for some time, although it will be three years after their divorce before Charles will marry Jill Ireland. In her book, Charlie And Me, she said that Charles tried to talk her out of the divorce. She said, "She could put up with his infidelity, but she could not fight love," referring to Jill Ireland. Harriet became depressed. Her life had just fallen apart. She stated years later, that she was just a walking nervous breakdown. She was unable to take care of their two children. Charles was awarded custody of Suzanne and Tony. Harriet stated in her book, Charlie And Me, about their life together, That she would see Jill Ireland in movies with Charlie, and say to herself, "That was supposed to be me. He promised me." As time went by, Harriet Bronson began to improve. She decided that she could make it on her own. Charles would again share the children with her, but never relinquish custody. Harriet became a very popular Radio talk-show host, a profession she dearly loved and evidently was very good at it. She spent 9 years on both KABC and KIEV in Los Angeles. It was said by some that she was the best voice on late-night radio. She battled breast cancer and lung cancer and to my knowledge, she's living in Los Angeles today. Harriet Bronson never re-married. 

In 1967, Bronson will play in The Dirty Dozen, with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland. 12 months after the Bronson's divorce, David McCallum and Ireland divorced. David quickly married actress, Katherine Carpenter that same year and they are still married. On the 5th of October, 1968, Charles Bronson and Jill Dorothy Ireland married in a simple ceremony at Santa Monica City Hall, with all 5 children present. Charles's two, Susanna & Tony, and Jill's three, Paul, Jason & Valentine; Valentine, who was born nine months after Jill and David adopted Jason. Charles was 42 and Jill was 26 when they got married. The Bronson Family moved into their grand Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles. The Bel Air home had seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms. The Bronsons will need them all. It started with five kids, but it will end with seven. Three years later Jill and Charlie will have a daughter, Zuleika. They will name their West Windsor, Vermont, 18th century home after her. 

In 1971, Charles Bronson would be awarded the Golden Globe for the Most Popular Actor in the World, partly because he starred in such foreign films as 1968's Once Upon A Time In The West and in 1970's French film, Rider On The Rain. 

In 1972, Bronson starred with his wife, Jill Ireland, in The Mechanic. Bronson will earn $1 million for his part in Death Wish in 1974. He played a vigilante taking revenge on the rapist who raped his wife. In 1975, it'll be Breakheart Pass, also with Jill. That same year was Breakout, with his wife, Jill, again. In 1976, Bronson will earn another million for starring in St Ives. In 1977, it was The White Buffalo, for United Artists. In the same year, it was Raid On Entebbe. In 1981, Jill's close friend Hilary Holden, a British casting director and single mom, passed away suddenly from heart attack. Hilary had no family. After the funeral, Hilary's 11 year old daughter went home with the Bronsons. Katrina was quickly adopted by Charles & Jill. 

In 1982, he again starred with Jill Ireland in Death Wish II. The next was 1983 in 10 To Midnight, earning Bronson $2 million. Over the years, Charles will star with his wife Jill Ireland in 14 movies. Each time, they will gather up their kids and go on filming locations. They believed in taking the kids with them wherever they went. 

Two things happened to the Bronson family in 1984: Jill wrote her autobiography, Life Wish, and in May of 1984, she went to the doctor for the routine breast exam. The doctor requested more tests. After 48 hours of tests, Ireland walked back to the hospital room and asked Charlie, "Have you talked to the doctor?" and "What did he say?" the shocked Bronson answered with one word; "Malignant." For the next six years there would be no movies. Charles Bronson did not work. His full time and energy was to look after and take care of Jill. 

Jill went on a massive chemo and radiation cancer treatment schedule, starting with a mastectomy. It was extremely hard on everyone, knowing that Jill's time was limited. When she was able, they spent time on their 260 acre horse ranch in Vermont, so their youngest daughter could perform in horse shows. Jill said it was the only place she really loved. However after 3 years of relentless treatment, the family received the news that her cancer had spread into her lungs. While Jill's health was fading, she was trying to do an audiobook about her life with cancer called Life Lines. Assisting her was a 29 year old actress, Kim Weeks. She became indispensable to Jill and Charlie alike. She started taking care of their financial affairs that Jill could no longer do. After Jill's death, Weeks will continue in that capacity. 

In November of 1989, Jill and Charlie received more heartbreaking news when her son Paul called their Vermont home to tell them that her adopted son Jason was found dead at his Laurel Canyon apartment, believed related to drug and alcohol use. Jill was devastated and couldn't believe it. She had spoken to Jason the day before. He seeme okay. He said he was off drugs, looking forward to the future. Ireland stated she believed her son was predisposed to drugs. She had learned that Jason's maternal father was a drug addict. She said; "Poor little Jason did not stand a chance," and that he had been her greatest worry. Ireland's family, especially Bronson, was concerned about Jill being able to attend Jason's funeral in Los Angeles, but she insisted; And Charles chartered a private plane. David McCallum, Jason's legal father and Charles Bronson, who had helped raise him during his 21 years of marriage to Jill, carried Jason's casket up the hill to the burial plot. Paul and Valentine sang a song dedicated to their brother. Jason McCallum Bronson, is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California. Jason was 27 years old. Within six months of Jason's death on May the 18th, 1990, around a.m. Jill Dorothy Ireland will pass away at her Malibu home, her husband Charles Bronson, her mother Dorothy, her brother John, sons Paul and Valentine and along with their daughter Zuleyka. At her request, she will be cremated and her remains given to her husband. Jill Ireland was 54 years old. 

Her star is on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and located at 6751, Hollywood Boulevard. Bronson will tell reporters a few years after Jill's death, "I keep her room as it was when she died. I will never marry again." And in 1994, Charles Bronson will star in his last starring role in a movie, Death Wish 5. However he will star in some TV movies such as 1995's Family Of Cops, Family Of Cops II, 1997, Family Of Cops III in 1999. Bronson gave his assistant Kim Weeks parts in his last TV movies. In 1998, Bronson underwent replacement hip surgery, causing him to retire. Also in 1998, Kim Weeks reportedly told Bronson that she was leaving if he wouldn't marry her. They married on December the 22nd, 1998. 

By 1999, Bronson was slowly showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. His health was deteriorating and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. By 2002, friends said that Charles's Alzheimer's had progressed to a point that he didn't known that he was an actor, much less a world superstar. On August the 30th, 2003, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Charles Dennis Bronson will pass away from pneumonia, complications of lung cancer and Alzheimer's. Mr Bronson appeared in over 90 films throughout his career. His star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame is located on the North side of 6900 block, Hollywood Boulevard. Charles Bronson was buried at Brownsville Cemetery in West Windsor, Vermont. At his request, the remains of Jill Ireland was interred with him. Charles Bronson was 81 years old..

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