George C. Scott, 1927-1999

The man who was Patton dies at 71

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"Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the otherpoor dumb bastard die for hiscountry." And with that line, in front of the big American flag, there went the real George S. Patton; he was George C. Scott now, indelibly. "Patton" won seven Academy Awards; one was set aside for Scott as Best Actor, but of course he never picked it up. As he had done for his two other Oscar nominations, for "Anatomy of a Murder" and "The Hustler," Scott stayed home; he felt the Oscars were a meaningless popularity contest – acting was not a competitive sport. While "Patton" swept in 1970, Scott was watching hockey.

He claimed not even to like making movies, though he did some 40 of them and many more for TV. "I have to work in the theater to stay sane," said the man who got out of his sickbed to star in the 1996 revival of "Inherit the Wind." "You can attack the stage fresh every night." In any medium, what captivated about George C. Scott was the ferocity, the stony eagle profile and the gravel voice that were always tearing into something or somebody. Out of character, he was the same –- five marriages (twice to Colleen Dewhurst alone), five broken noses, a life in and out of the bottle. That was a habit he picked up during his Marine service, mostly spent on funeral duty at Arlington Cemetery in the days after World War II. "You can't look at that many widows in veils and hear that many 'Taps' without taking to drink," he said, and even now you can hear exactly how he’d say something like that.

"The thing about George as an actor was that he had all this righteous rage about him," says TIME cinema writer Richard Schickel. "He came along at a time when the early Method actors were all doing ‘inward.’ Scott was always ‘outward,’ never sullen. His acting always had this tremendous spirit and integrity." Which is why Schickel found it so sad — he knew Scott a little, and liked him — to see Scott’s drinking steadily sap him of that strength. "When you pour everything into the roles like Scott did, it shows when you don’t physically have the energy anymore. Toward the end, his career just kind of fizzled. It was a great American talent wasted."

They found Scott on Thursday morning, dead in his sleep at 71 at his home northwest of Los Angeles. "He just expired," said Pat Mahoney, the wife of Scott’s publicist. "He was on again, off again for a while." George C. Scott wasn’t often "off" – he was a scenery-chewer, a barker of orders. He could do reserved, behind those sunglasses and a glass of milk in "The Hustler," or comic, as Gen. Buck Turgidson in Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." (Schickel says Scott was genuinely surprised at how funny he was in that film.) Scott was never a prototypical leading man – something about him screamed angry outsider — but he couldn’t have been too hard to cast. You always knew what you were getting: gruff power. "Brando smoldered," says Schickel. "George exploded." And nobody said "bastard" quite like him.