On this day, June 11, 1979, one of America’s greatest legends, both as a movie star and as a symbol of patriotism, died following a courageous fight with cancer. ‘The Duke’ was 72. Born Marion Michael Morrison, he had been a Hollywood hero for almost 50 years and with some 200 movies to his credit, including “The Alamo”, “Island in the Sky”, “The Longest Day”, “Rio Bravo”, “The Sons of Katie Elder” and “True Grit” (his only Oscar-winning performance). He was known by his devoted audience as John Wayne.
Born in Winterset, Iowa. his family relocated to the greater Los Angeles area when he was four years old. He found work at local film studios when he lost his football scholarship to USC as a result of a bodysurfing accident.
Initially working for the Fox Film Corporation, he mostly appeared in small bit parts. His acting breakthrough came in 1939 with John Ford’s Stagecoach, making him an instant star. Wayne would go on to star in 142 pictures, primarily typecast in Western films.
Among his best known films are The Quiet Man (1952), which follows him as an Irish-American boxer and his love affair with a fiery spinster played by Maureen O’Hara; The Searchers (1956), in which he plays a Civil War veteran who seeks out his abducted niece; Rio Bravo (1959), playing a Sheriff with Dean Martin; True Grit (1969), playing a humorous U.S. Marshal who sets out to avenge a man’s death in the role that won Wayne an Academy Award; and The Shootist (1976), his final screen performance in which he plays an aging gunslinger battling cancer.
Wayne was a prominent Republican in Hollywood, supporting anti-communist positions.
In June 1999, the American Film Institute named Wayne 13th among the Greatest Male Screen Legends of All Time.
1919 – Richard Todd (Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd) (actor: The Hasty Heart, The Longest Day, The Big Sleep, House of the Long Shadows, Never Let Go)
1920 – Shelly Manne (composer, musician: drummer: Peter Gunn score; actor: Man with the Golden Arm; died Sep 26, 1984)
1933 – Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman) (actor: Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, The Woman in Red, Silver Streak, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Murder in a Small Town, The Lady in Question)
1936 – Chad Everett (Raymon Cramton) (actor: Medical Center, The Dakotas, The Singing Nun, The Jigsaw Murders, Airplane 2: The Sequel, McKenna)
1945 – Adrienne Barbeau (actress: Swamp Thing, Maude, Cannonball Run, Silk Degrees, Double-Crossed, Two Evil Eyes)
1965 – Pamela Gidley (actress: C.S.I., The Pretender, Angel Street, Freefall, Jane Austen’s Mafia!)
1978 – Joshua Jackson (actor: Dawson’s Creek, The Mighty Ducks series, On the Edge of Innocence)