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Actor Gregory Peck Dies at 87 - 2003-06-13


Actor Gregory Peck, whose impressive performances brought life to characters on film, the stage, and television, has died at his Los Angeles home at the age of 87.

A Hollywood journalist once described his style as "brooding American gothic." Tall, handsome, yet modest and soft spoken, Gregory Peck was a cinematic hero, someone to believe in.

Born in 1916 in La Jolla, California, his interest in acting as a profession arose, quite literally, by accident. A rowing enthusiast in college, Peck sustained a back injury and was no longer able to participate in his sport.

"It was because of that, really, that i accepted a part in a play in college,” he said. “Someone asked me to do it. And i had no particular interest. I think i just did it for a lark (for fun). But i got quite taken with it. I was very bad at it. But somehow it seemed to ring a bell. And it seemed to have something to do with the things that i was interested in - with literature, with drama, with writing, with self-expression."

By 1942, Gregory Peck was acting on Broadway and, two years later, in films. In one of his earliest films, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), Peck planted the seeds of stardom that grew for more than 40 years. During his career, he earned five Hollywood Academy Award nominations for his work, including one Oscar for best actor in 1962. Peck earned the Oscar for his sensitive and powerful performance as a small-town southern lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird.

"Oh yes, I love that story! And when I read that book, I just felt I had to do it...that I was born to do it...that I understood it and could easily step into the shoes of that small-town lawyer," he said. "It was like climbing into a comfortable old suit of clothes. So that film is very close to my heart. And then I liked the idea that he [the lawyer Peck played] would defend a black man accused of rape, falsely accused as it turned out, even though by doing so he may have risked not only his reputation in the town but [his] physical safety and that of his children as well."

Gregory Peck admitted that the quality of his work varied.

"When I'm wrongly cast or in a poor script,” he said. “I sink with the ship." But his good films outweighed the poor ones. Among his favorites of his own movies were Gentleman's Agreement, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Roman Holiday, The Guns of Navarone, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

When asked his opinion of acting, Peck quoted his friend, Sir Laurence Olivier: "No matter how grave the situation or how hectic the drama in a particular work, an actor should search always to find the absurdities of life and the foibles of human nature." Peck said he felt this gave drama both spice and levity.

It was in the area of levity, or comedy and humor, that Peck felt most unfulfilled in his own career. Near its end, he lamented his missed opportunity.

"In a sense, I've been fighting all my career to be less earnest and less sincere, and to get a little comedy and get a little light touch now and thenm” he said. “I'd love to make people laugh. I think, really, it's the highest form of acting and entertainment. I myself love to laugh, and i think people do generally. I think the world needs it."

In his later life, Mr. Peck often volunteered his time to various charities, believing that people should contribute the maximum possible to their communities. His work with the American Cancer Society and the National Council for the Arts were an extension of this personal philosophy of service. Peck also expanded the scope of his profession. In 1972, he turned producer with the film The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. Five years later, he gave a commanding portrayal of General Douglas MacArthur, a towering figure in American military history, in the film MacArthur. The next year, he played the role of a villain for the first time in The Boys from Brazil.

At the end of his career, Gregory Peck had left an acting legacy rich in both its variety and uniqueness of talent.

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