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Tough-guy Coburn dies at 74

Published Sep. 4, 2005

James Coburn, the tough-guy actor in films that included Our Man Flint and The Magnificent Seven, but who won an Academy Award years later for his portrayal of a dissolute father in Affliction, died Monday (Nov. 18, 2002). He was 74.

Mr. Coburn died of a heart attack at home while listening to music with his wife, said his manager, Hillard Elkins.

Mr. Coburn won his best supporting actor Oscar for the 1998 film after overcoming a 10-year struggle with arthritis that left one hand crippled.

Born in Laurel, Neb., on Aug. 31, 1928, Mr. Coburn studied acting in Los Angeles and with Stella Adler in New York.

He appeared on stage in New York and in such dramatic television series as Studio One and General Electric Theatre in the 1950s.

He made his movie debut in Ride Lonesome in 1959 and gained the public's notice a year later when he played the knife-throwing Britt in The Magnificent Seven.

Although he had few lines compared with his other macho actor co-stars, film historian Leonard Maltin noted Mr. Coburn's mere screen presence grabbed the public's attention.

Mr. Coburn played sidekicks and villains until the late 1960s when he cashed in on the James Bond mania with the humorous spy spoofs Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

Such films as The President's Analyst, which he also produced, the World War II escape epic The Great Escape and Golden Girl followed.

In the 1980s he all but disappeared from the screen with the onset of arthritis.

He said he "healed himself" with pills that had a sulfur base. His knuckles remained gnarled, but he said in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press that the pain was gone.

He said at that time, when the film roles weren't coming, "I've been reading a lot of stuff. I want to go to work. It's what I do best; it's the only thing I can really do.

"Actors are boring when they're not working; it's a natural condition, because they don't have anything to do, they just lay around and that's why so many of them get drunk. They really get to be boring people. My wife will attest to that," he said with a hearty laugh.