Family hosts public funeral services in Las Vegas to celebrate life of actor Tony Curtis

By Oskar Garcia, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Family hosts public farewell for actor Tony Curtis

LAS VEGAS — Celebrities, fans, friends and family members crammed into a Las Vegas funeral chapel Monday to say goodbye to Tony Curtis and celebrate the movie star’s life.

A film tribute to the actor’s diverse and iconic career flashed before more than 400 guests. The crowd laughed as an animated Curtis appeared in a scene from the television series “The Flintstones” and sparred with actor Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus.”

People bowed their hands during a series of Jewish prayers.

The 85-year-old Oscar-nominated actor who starred in such films as “The Defiant Ones,” and “Some Like It Hot” died Wednesday at his home in Henderson after suffering cardiac arrest.

Friends and fans lined up Monday outside Palm Mortuary & Cemetery well before the funeral began.

Inside, seven colorful paintings by Curtis stood on easels while a photo of the young, dark-haired actor was projected on a screen. An American flag covered the coffin.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Curtis’ daughter from his first marriage with “Psycho” actress Janet Leigh, teared up as she described a man who was, she said, “a little mashugana,” using the Yiddish word for crazy, but always full of life.

“All of us got something from him. I, of course, got his desperate need for attention,” she joked.

The father and daughter were estranged for a long period, but they eventually reconciled and he took pride in her on-screen credits that include “Perfect,” ”Halloween,” ”True Lies,” ”Trading Places” and the new comedy “You Again.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled Tony Curtis as a generous mentor who encouraged his budding Hollywood career when others told him his foreign accent and name were too much of a hurdle.

“‘You are going to make it,’ ” Schwarzenegger recalled Tony Curtis telling him. “Don’t pay any attention to those guys. I heard the same thing when I came here.”

Schwarzenegger said Tony Curtis refused to feel old.

“I mean, who has the guts to take off their clothes at the age of 80?” Schwarzenegger said, referring to Tony Curtis posing naked for a Vanity Fair photo shoot in 2005.

The funeral was to be followed by burial and then a reception for 200 invited guests at the Luxor hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Tony Curtis’ wife, Jill Curtis, eulogized her husband of 16 years. She said he was being laid to rest in his favorite Armani scarf and driving gloves. He wore them even after he no longer could drive.

“He was always, right up to the end, plotting ways to get his drivers license back,” she said.

Known for shifting from a pigeonholed pretty boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s to a serious actor, Tony Curtis reshaped himself over decades of work and made himself impossible to typecast. The transformation was completed in 1957’s “Sweet Smell of Success,” in which he played a sleazy press agent who is manipulated by a ruthless newspaper columnist (Burt Lancaster).

In person, Tony Curtis loved giving friends and fans extra touches that made their face-to-face moments more memorable, longtime friend and pallbearer Gene Kilroy told The Associated Press.

“He had a certain way of making everybody feel like they were Spartacus,” he said.

Kilroy, an executive at Luxor, said billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, actor Kirk Douglas and singer Phyllis McGuire are among seven honorary pallbearers.

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925. His father wanted to be an actor but was hindered by his heavy accent.

Tony Curtis found refuge in movies at age 12 after his younger brother was killed in a traffic accident. He served on a submarine during World War II, then enrolled in drama school on the G.I. Bill. An agent lined up an audition with Universal, and he signed a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week at age 23.

The studio gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, “Anthony Adverse,” and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. He later shortened it to Tony Curtis.

Associated Press Writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report.

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