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Rod Steiger is dead

By Anand Parthasarathy

Kochi July 10. Rod Steiger, the brooding, burly actor whose commanding presence enlivened some of the most powerful films of the 1960s, died on Tuesday, in a Los Angeles hospital, aged 77, after pneumonia and kidney failure.

With his passing, Hollywood has lost almost all its famous "method actors" — stage and screen stars who learned their craft in the 1950s, at the exacting "Actor's Studio" in New York from masters like Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. And it was in director Kazan's searing 1954 classic about the New York underworld, "On the Waterfront", that Steiger established his trademark menacing persona as the man who leads his younger brother (Marlon Brando) into a life of crime.

It won him the first of three Academy Award acting nominations. The second came for his powerful portrayal of "The Pawnbroker" (1965), the zombie-like victim of the Nazi Holocaust, trying to come to terms with his past.

But for his first and only acting Oscar, Steiger had to wait another two years: for Norman Jewison's racially-charged film, "In the Heat of the Night" — and his role of the narrow-minded redneck sheriff who develops a grudging respect for a black colleague played by Sydney Poitier.

He portrayed a procession of real life characters that only Charlton Heston has matched for variety: Steiger has played Rasputin, Napoleon, Mussolini, Al Capone, Pope John XXIII and Pontius Pilate. He always admitted to one bad career decision: turning down the title role in "Patton" that subsequently went to George C. Scott and earned him an Oscar.

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