Actor Widmark dies, had long film career

HARTFORD, Conn. — Richard Widmark, who made a sensational film debut as the giggling killer in “Kiss of Death” and became a leading man in “Broken Lance,” “Two Rode Together” and 40 other films, died at his home in Roxbury after a long illness. He was 93.

Widmark’s wife, Susan Blanchard, said he died Monday. She would not provide details of his illness and said funeral arrangements are private.

“It was a big shock, but he was 93,” Blanchard said.

Widmark earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for his role in the 1947 thriller “Kiss of Death.” He played Tommy Udo, who delighted in pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs to her death. It was his only Oscar nomination.

“That damned laugh of mine!” he told a reporter in 1961. “For two years after that picture, you couldn’t get me to smile. I played the part the way I did because the script struck me as funny and the part I played made me laugh. The guy was such a ridiculous beast.”

Actress Shirley Jones, who appeared with Widmark and James Stewart in “Two Rode Together” and became a good friend, said she was devastated by Widmark’s death.

“He was a down-to-earth guy, and I respected him for that,” Jones said from Los Angeles. “He was a real guy, but he was such a wonderful actor.”

A.C. Lyles, a producer with Paramount Pictures, worked with Widmark on the 1975 western “The Last Day.”

“Dick was just one of the nicest guys I ever worked with: very, very professional, very, very prepared and he couldn’t have been more cooperative,” Lyles said.

“He would have little comments to make during rehearsal about a scene and it was never a suggestion that would enhance him,” he said. “It was always to enhance someone else in the scene and I thought that was very courageous of him.”

A quiet, inordinately shy man, Widmark often portrayed killers, cops and Western gunslingers. But he said he hated guns.

“I know I’ve made kind of a half-assed career out of violence, but I abhor violence,” he said in a 1976 interview. “I am an ardent supporter of gun control. It seems incredible to me that we are the only civilized nation that does not put some effective control on guns.”

Widmark appeared in 20 Fox films from 1957 to 1964. Among them: “The Street with No Name,” “Road House,” “Yellow Sky,” “Down to the Sea in Ships,” “Slattery’s Hurricane,” “Panic in the Streets,” “No Way Out,” “The Halls of Montezuma,” “The Frogmen,” “Red Skies of Montana,” “My Pal Gus” and the Samuel Fuller film noir “Pickup on South Street.”

After leaving Fox, Widmark’s career continued to flourish. He starred (as Jim Bowie) with John Wayne in “The Alamo,” with James Stewart in John Ford’s “Two Rode Together,” as the U.S. prosecutor in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” and with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas in “The Way West.” Also: “St. Joan” (as the Dauphin), “How the West Was Won,” “Death of a Gunfighter,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Midas Run” and “Coma.”

“Madigan,” a 1968 film with Widmark as a loner detective, was converted to television and lasted one season in 1972-73. It was Widmark’s only TV series.

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