Cliff Robertson Cause of Death: How the Oscar-Winning Actor Passed Away

Cliff Robertson was an American actor who had a long and distinguished career in film and television. He won an Academy Award for his performance in the 1968 film Charly, where he played a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental treatment that boosts his intelligence. He also portrayed a young John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film PT 109, and appeared as Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man film trilogy. He was known for his versatility, integrity, and passion for aviation.

Early Life and Career

Robertson was born on September 9, 1923, in La Jolla, California. His parents divorced when he was one year old, and his mother died of peritonitis when he was two. He was raised by his maternal grandmother in California, and rarely saw his father, who was a wealthy rancher and a serial philanderer. Robertson graduated from La Jolla High School in 1941, and served as a third mate in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. He survived a Japanese bombing attack on his ship near the Philippines on December 7, 1941, the same day as the Pearl Harbor attack.

After the war, he attended Antioch College in Ohio, but dropped out to pursue an acting career. He moved to New York City, where he studied at the Actors Studio and worked in television and theater. He made his Broadway debut in Late Love in 1953, and his film debut in Picnic in 1955. He gained recognition for his roles in The Naked and the Dead (1958), Gidget (1959), Underworld U.S.A. (1961), and The Best Man (1964). He also received acclaim for his television work, especially for his portrayal of an alcoholic in Playhouse 90’s Days of Wine and Roses (1958).

Oscar Glory and Hollywood Scandal

Robertson’s career reached its peak in 1968, when he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Charly, based on the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. He played Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled janitor who undergoes an experimental surgery that increases his IQ to genius levels, but also causes him to lose his emotional stability and his identity. Robertson’s performance was praised by critics and audiences alike, and he beat out other nominees such as Peter O’Toole, Alan Arkin, Ron Moody, and Alan Bates.

However, Robertson’s Oscar triumph was soon overshadowed by a scandal that almost ruined his career. In 1977, he discovered that Columbia Pictures head David Begelman had forged his signature on a $10,000 check and cashed it for himself. Robertson reported the fraud to the authorities, but instead of being hailed as a hero, he was blacklisted by many Hollywood executives who feared that he would expose their own corruption. Robertson sued Columbia for defamation and breach of contract, and eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. He later said that he did not regret blowing the whistle on Begelman, but admitted that it cost him many opportunities and friends in the industry.

Later Years and Death

Despite the backlash from the Begelman affair, Robertson continued to work steadily in film and television throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He played prominent roles in films such as Brainstorm (1983), Class (1983), Star 80 (1983), Malone (1987), Escape from L.A. (1996), and Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (1991). He also starred in several TV movies and miniseries, such as Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977), Ford: The Man and the Machine (1987), Windmills of the Gods (1988), Falcon Crest (1989-1990), The Kennedys of Massachusetts (1990), Dazzle (1995), and The Outer Limits (1996).

Robertson’s last major film role was as Uncle Ben Parker in the Spider-Man film trilogy directed by Sam Raimi. He played the beloved uncle of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), who teaches him the famous lesson: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Robertson reprised his role in flashbacks and voice-overs in Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Robertson died on September 10, 2011, at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York. He was 88 years old. The cause of death was natural causes, according to his publicist Evelyn Christel. He is survived by his daughter Stephanie Saunders from his first marriage to actress Cynthia Stone, and his daughter Heather Robertson from his second marriage to actress Dina Merrill. He is buried at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in East Hampton, New York.

Legacy and Honors

Robertson was widely respected and admired by his peers and fans for his talent, professionalism, and courage. He was also an avid aviator who owned several planes and flew them regularly. He was the founding chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Program, which provides free flights to children and introduces them to aviation. He was also a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Living Legends of Aviation.

Robertson received many awards and honors for his work in film and television, including a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a BAFTA nomination, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also honored by the Kennedy family for his portrayal of John F. Kennedy in PT 109, and received a letter from the president himself thanking him for his performance. In 2008, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Method Fest Independent Film Festival.

Robertson is remembered as one of the finest actors of his generation, who brought depth, dignity, and humanity to his roles. He once said: “I’m not a movie star. I’m an actor. I like to act.”

Doms Desk

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