By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actor James Coburn (news), famed for his action roles and poignant characterizations in a career spanning more than 40 years, died of a heart attack on Monday, his manager said. He was 74.
Coburn had been listening to music at his Beverly Hills home with his wife, when he was struck by a massive coronary about 4:30 p.m. PST, said his manager, Hillard Elkins. He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
"He died happy," Elkins told Reuters.
Although the tall, bearded actor starred in many memorable films including his 1960 breakthrough "The Magnificent Seven" and the 1966 spy spoof "Our Man Flint," he never secured a career-defining role until the 1998 drama "Affliction."
That film, directed by Paul Schrader, won Coburn an Academy Award for his supporting role as an alcoholic, abusive father to Nick Nolte and Willem Dafoe. Despite his macho swagger, Coburn said his character was "the antithesis of who I am."
He can currently be seen in North American theaters playing a terminally ill novelist in "The Man From Elysian Fields," an independent movie starring Andy Garcia and Mick Jagger.
Earlier this year, he co-starred opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in the surprise hit "Snow Dogs." Plans were afoot for them to reunite in a sequel next year. Last year, he lent his rich voice to a character in the hit cartoon "Monsters, Inc.," and in 1999 he starred opposite Mel Gibson in "Payback."
His comeback was all the sweeter after a 15-year battle with rheumatoid arthritis that threatened to end his career during the 1980s.
Born in Laurel, Neb., on Aug. 31, 1928, Coburn was raised in Depression-era Los Angeles. He studied acting at Los Angeles City College and the University of Southern California, and then moved to New York to study with Stella Adler.
'THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN'
He landed his first feature roles in two 1959 westerns, "Ride Lonesome" and "Face of a Fugitive." The following year, he was cast as one of "The Magnificent Seven," from which he got work with co-star Steve McQueen in "Hell Is for Heroes" in 1962 and the popular "The Great Escape" in 1963.
Coburn was propelled to leading man status as suave superspy Derek Flint in "Our Man Flint," for which he received just $75,000. The 1967 sequel "In Like Flint" was also successful. The pair were recently released on DVD. By the time of his 1967 political satire "The President's Analyst," he was getting $450,000 a film.
Coburn endured several missteps along the way, including Blake Edwards' 1966 "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy" and Sidney Lumet's "Last of the Mobile Hot-Shots" (1969). Unable to find work in 1970, he went to Europe, where he appeared in Sergio Leone's "Duck You Sucker" and "A Fistful of Dynamite."
Two of his favorite films were the 1973 Western "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" and the 1977 World War II movie, "Cross of Iron," both of which were directed by Sam Peckinpah.
Coburn also worked in TV, on such diverse projects as the 1981 movie "Valley of the Dolls" and HBO's "The Second Civil War." At the time of his death, he was perusing four or five scripts, Elkins said.
He is survived by his wife, Paula, two children, Lisa and James Jr., and two grandchildren. Coburn and his wife last month put their five-story home on the market for $5.9 million with plans to downsize and travel.