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Oscar-winning "Shane" star Jack Palance dies at 87

Updated: 2006-11-11 08:53


Actor and World War II veteran Jack Palance (R) speaks with another war veteran during a WWII Reunion in Washington, May 28, 2004.

Oscar-winning actor Jack Palance, one of Hollywood's best-known screen villains who personified evil as a cold-blooded gunslinger in the classic western "Shane," died on Friday at the age of 87, his spokesman said.

Palance, who later won an Oscar for the comedy "City Slickers" and famously brought down the house by performing one-armed push-ups on the stage, died of natural causes, spokesman Dick Guttman said.

Though he had dozens of film and TV parts, Palance's gaunt features, raspy voice and squinty eyes were perfect for menacing roles and he often played dangerous characters.

He was nominated for Oscars as the beady-eyed hired gun who is shot down by Alan Ladd's title character in "Shane" and for 1952's "Sudden Fear," in which he starred opposite Joan Crawford as a man plotting to kill his wife.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1919, Palance was a professional boxer who injured his throat in a fight, leaving him with his signature raspy voice, before serving in World War Two. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, his birth name was Vladimir Palahnuik, variously spelled as Palahniuk or Palaniuk.

After the war Palance moved to New York and served as Marlon Brando's understudy for the classic Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." He made his screen debut in the 1950 Elia Kazan film "Panic in the Streets."

"Shane," with its beautiful cinematography of bleak landscapes and themes of good versus evil, is considered one of Hollywood's greatest westerns.

Ladd stars as a vaguely mysterious former gunslinger who tries to settle down with a homesteading family but is forced into a showdown with the hired gun played by Palance.

George Stevens Jr., the son of "Shane" director George Stevens, said he remembered Palance arriving on the set weeks before his scenes were to be shot.

"(He would) get on his gray horse and then ride off and we'd see him stop and practice getting on and off the horse," Stevens said. "He was from New York and didn't know how to do that. And he also worked with the fast draw guy to practice drawing his gun. At the end, the gunslinger instructor was very impressed."

Palance's chilling, scene-stealing acting in "Shane" landed him leading roles in the 1950s but he was best suited as the bad guy, both in film and on television.

His career had a resurgence with his role in "City Slickers," playing aging but still tough-as-nails cowboy Curly Washburn, who quietly inspires a group of businessmen during a western cattle drive.

Oscar host Billy Crystal, who starred alongside Palance in "Slickers," turned his one-handed push-ups into a running gag.

Guttman said Palance, who is survived by his wife and two daughters, died at his home in Montecito, California, surrounded by members of his family.