While on vacation this past Labor Day weekend, I was saddened to hear that tough-guy actor Charles Bronson had died at the age of 81.
Most fans of Bronson's work are a generation ahead of me, since he was making his best movies before I was even born. A lot of people know him for "Death Wish" and its sequels, but he made a number of other (and perhaps better) films before then, in the 1960s: "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Great Escape" were his big three in a supporting role, followed by "Once Upon a Time in the West" which was his breakout role. Other personal favorites of mine are "Chato's Land" and "The Mechanic" and "Hard Times" from the 1970s and "Death Hunt" and "The Evil That Men Do" from the 1980s.
The thing about Bronson was that he could achieve the tough-guy effect with body language and a minimum of lines and violence, unlike some of the same genre's actors in the 1980s and 1990s and now. Bronson's characters were typically guys that you just didn't mess with, and his grimace plus short, concise phrases practically defined bad-ass.
He was also great because he was in spectacular health even in his 50s and 60s. He was one of those actors who lifted weights long before it became fashionable and easy. In 1971's "Chato's Land", at age 50, he ran around shirtless with a physique that would put Stallone to shame. Bronson didn't just play tough guys, he WAS a tough guy.
I always figured the man would live to be a hundred, one of those crusty old Hollywood tough guys who just kept on surviving. With his passing, we're left with only a handful. From the same elder generation there's Jack Palance (84 years old) and Clint Eastwood (73.) From the next generation we have Stallone (57) and Schwarzenegger (56.) The younger generation is represented by Dolph Lundgren (45) and Jean-Claude van Damme (42.) Of all of those, only Clint Eastwood is really comparable to Bronson anyway.
RIP, Charles Bronson. You will be missed.