Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson dies at 88

LOS ANGELES Sun Sep 11, 2011 12:39am EDT

Actor Cliff Robertson, one of the supporting cast of the new action adventure film ''Spider-Man'' poses at the films premiere, April 29, 2002 in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Actor Cliff Robertson, one of the supporting cast of the new action adventure film ''Spider-Man'' poses at the films premiere, April 29, 2002 in Los Angeles.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Cliff Robertson, who won an Oscar playing a mentally disabled janitor in "Charly" and worked in movies ranging from "PT 109" to "Spider-Man 3," died in New York Saturday, the day after his 88th birthday.

Robertson's career spanned more than 60 years and included Hollywood movies, Broadway shows, television dramas and commercials. He also is remembered for his courage in exposing powerful Columbia studios chief David Begelman, who had forged his name on a $10,000 check in the late 1970s.

Begelman's misappropriation of studio money caused a scandal at the time that was dubbed "Hollywoodgate" and Robertson became a hero among some industry players by risking his career to expose Begelman. In fact, work dried up for several years before he forged a comeback.

Hollywood's film industry awarded him its highest honor, the Oscar. Robertson won the Academy Award for best actor for the 1968 film "Charly" in which he portrayed a mentally disabled man who is transformed into a genius in an experiment, only to regress to his former self.

Robertson's work as a top dramatic actor of his generation earned him his greatest fame. He also portrayed a young John F. Kennedy in "PT 109" and the elderly Ben Parker, uncle to the crime fighter Peter Parker, in the "Spider-Man" movies.

And his work in television, which dated back to the "Playhouse 90" dramas of the 1950s, earned him that medium's top prize, an Emmy.

U.S. media reported that Robertson died at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York state of natural causes.

UP THROUGH THE RANKS

Born Clifford Parker Robertson III in La Jolla, California on September 9, 1923, he first worked in community theater in San Diego before joining the U.S. merchant marine during World War Two.

After the military, he moved east to study acting and performed in theaters in upstate New York and New England, and like many actors of his generation, set his sight on Broadway.

He worked on Broadway in shows such as "The Wisteria Trees" with Helen Hayes and took work in the early days of black-and-white television.

Soon his career took him to Hollywood where he earned roles on shows such as "Ben Casey" and "The Twilight Zone."

He won an Emmy, U.S. television's top honor, for his work in "The Game." He was nominated for Emmys in "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Two Worlds of Charly Gordon," which eventually became the movie "Charly."

In 1963, he starred as Lieutenant John F. Kennedy in the naval war film "PT 109" about the military days of the young man who would become a U.S. president.

Robertson worked steadily over the decades and was performing well into the 2000s. In "Spider-Man 3" in 2007, he portrayed Ben Parker, the elderly uncle of the superhero's alter-ego, Peter Parker.

In his private life, Robertson played tennis and was a avid pilot who loved aviation. He was married twice, first to Cynthia Stone Lemmon, from whom he was divorced, and later to actress Dina Merrill from 1966 to 1989. He had two daughters, one from each marriage.

(Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Will Dunham)

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