After a stint in the Navy in World War II, Curtis began his Hollywood career as a contract player at Universal, appearing in bit parts before his breakout success in 1957 as an unscrupulous press agent alongside Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success. The following year, he co-starred with Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones, earning a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a racist chained to a fellow prison escapee who happens to be African American. Curtis soon proved to be equally adept in comedies, co-starring with Jack Lemmon and Marylyn Monroe in Billy Wilder’s classic 1959 farce Some Like it Hot. In 1960, he had a supporting role in Spartacus, though his most memorable scene — loaded with barely concealed gay subtext – would not be seen publicly until a 1991 rerelease.
If Curtis’s heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s, he continued to act in movie and TV roles, though he focused more on painting in recent years. His final credited performance was in 2008’s David & Fatima a drama about a love affair between an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman who fall in love. He can also be seen offering reminisces in the recent documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel.
Curtis’s first wife was actress Janet Leigh, and they had two daughters — actresses Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis. He was subsequently married four times, and is survived by his wife Jill Vandenberg Curtis.
For more on the career of Tony Curtis, go to his complete RT filmography page here.