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Actor Sterling Hayden Dead at 70

May 23, 1986 GMT

SAUSALITO, Calif. (AP) _ Actor Sterling Hayden, whose roles ranged from the comically obsessed Gen. Jack D. Ripper in ″Dr. Strangelove″ to a crooked cop in ″The Godfather,″ died of cancer Friday at age 70.

The tall, rugged Hayden, a decorated Marine Corps captain in World War II who had a lifelong love of the sea and disdain of Hollywood, died in his sleep surrounded by his wife, Catherine, and children in his home on a hill overlooking San Francisco Bay.

″Sterling Hayden had a great, soaring spirit - truly a king among men,″ director John Huston said in a statement.


Born John Hamilton on March 26, 1916, in Montclair, N.J., the son of a New York newspaper advertising executive, Hayden went to sea at 20, serving as first mate aboard a schooner on an around-the-world voyage.

″Books and the sea, I discovered, had more than a little in common: both were distilled of silence and solitude,″ Hayden wrote in his 1963 autobiography, ″Wanderer.″

After a voyage to Tahiti, Hayden went to Hollywood in 1939 for a film career he vowed to pursue only for money. Between films, he took to the seas again for the merchant marine.

″I’ll go back to Hollywood to pick up a dollar, but that’s all. Everything is wrong with that city. It epitomizes all that’s wrong with life,″ he said.

The 6-foot-4, blue-eyed actor with a deep, husky voice began his movie career with ″Virginia″ and ″Bahama Passage″ in 1941.

During World War II, he served with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, in Italy and Yugoslavia, running night missions under sail behind the lines to resistance forces.

He won a Silver Star, then came back to Hollywood and made 51 films through 1979.

He said he joined the Communist Party for about six months in 1946 after returning from Yugoslavia, where he fought with Tito’s partisans, but he quickly realized he was not the normal party member.

″I was the only person to buy a yacht and join the Communist Party in the same week,″ he said.

In 1951, he told the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had briefly joined the Communist Party, but testified it was ″the stupidest, most ignorant thing I have ever done in my life.″ His testimony, he said, helped clear the ″cloud over my name″ during the Hollywood blacklisting era and he was able to work again.


Hayden’s first major acting role came as Dix Handley in Huston’s 1950 film- noir classic, ″The Asphalt Jungle.″ The film was a taut tale of crime foiled by its own greed and was Marilyn Monroe’s first major movie.

In 1963 he starred as Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Stanley’s Kubrick’s ″Dr. Strangelove,″ singlehandedly starting World War III in order to purify the human race. In 1971, he played a corrupt police captain in ″The Godfather.″

Other movie roles included ″The Last Command″ (1955); Kubrick’s ″The Killing″ (1956); ″Terror in a Texas Town″ (1958); ″Hard Contract″ (1969); ″Loving″ (1970); ″The Long Goodbye″ (1973); ″The Last Days of Man on Earth″ (1973); ″1900″ (1976); ″King of the Gypsies″ (1979); and ″Winter Kills″ (1979). In 1982, he played John Brown in CBS’ civil-war epic, ″The Blue and the Gray.″

Hayden, an alcoholic who finally quit drinking in 1982, saying ″I realize I can’t drink any liquor,″ was married three times and had six children and one stepson.

In 1959, he took his four pre-teen-age children on a windjammer cruise to Tahiti in defiance of a court order after winning custody from his second wife, Betty de Noon. Hayden apologized to the court, said he meant no disrespect, and was let off without a fine or jail sentence.

″I hate to see what America has become,″ he said after the Tahiti trip. ″The philosophy now is ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme.’... It’s not only in Hollywood. ... Hollywood is only an extension of the prevailing philosophy.″

″I felt that in order to stand on my own two feet and be a proper man I had to do work other than what I was doing,″ he told the court during after his trip. ″I was stunned by the decision (barring travel). I felt a direct and grinding conflict between my respect for the law and the best interests of my children.″

In addition to his autobiography, Hayden wrote a romantic and poetic novel, ″Voyager,″ in 1977, about an 1896 sea journey around Cape Horn.