A coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh gave Charles Bronson a challenging environment to spend his young years. Even after he had achieved Hollywood success, he couldn’t free himself from the trauma of his past.
Charles Bronson was born in a mining camp in Croyle Township, approximately 60 miles outside of Pittsburgh, on November 3, 1921. He was the ninth child out of a total of 15 kids.
Charles Bronson posed in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
He spent his childhood in a shack built by the company, but it was so small that his family had to take turns sleeping there. The house was only a few yards away from the coal wagon’s tracks.
BRONSON’S HOPELESS UPBRINGING
His birthplace was a wasteland devoid of trees, potable water, and sidewalks of any kind. The entire town comprised miners and officials from the mining company. Its sole purpose was to make coal extraction easier.
Bronson was an only child who had to struggle for a living as he was growing up. His childhood was a difficult one for him. Bronson recalled that his family had such a hard time making ends meet that he often had to go to school wearing his elder sister’s hand-me-downs, which included dresses.
Bronson’s father passed away when Bronson was still a teenager. He had to drop out of school to provide for his family, so he found work in a coal mine. He reflected that he never forgot the backbreaking labor or the feeling of coal inside his nostrils. Also, he never forgot the smell of coal.
“During my years as a miner, I was just a kid, but I was conceived that I was the lowliest of all forms of man.”
Actor Charles Bronson and his wife Kim Weeks arrive at The Carousel of Hope Ball benefiting The Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes on October 28, 2000, at the Beverly Hills Hilton in Beverly Hills. | Source: Getty Images
In addition, he recalled the headaches he suffered from due to his job when he was an impressionable teenager. Even more unfortunate, he came to suffer from a terrible inferiority complex.
He claimed that everyone who worked in a coal mining village suffered from feelings of inferiority. Railroads and steelworkers were considered the elite by them.
Bronson also remembered how his hands were rough and unsightly from work. One day, he remembered dancing with a girl, and his hand snagged on her dress and wouldn’t come loose:
Very few people know what it is like to live in the depths of the world, where it is completely dark.
American actor Charles Bronson and Italian actress Claudia Cardinale during the filming of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western ”Once Upon a Time in the West” Italy, April 1968. | Source: Getty Images
He went on to say that it was terrible to live on his knees and breathe in that dust while being unable to clear it off. Bronson claimed that he was born with a number two shovel instead of a spoon in his mouth.
Bronson said that during his years as a miner, he had felt like just a kid, but he had been convinced that he was the lowliest of all forms of man.
He reflected that being forced into the army had been the most positive experience of his life. He appeared to be in good health and had a nice outfit.
Even more, he was allowed to enhance his already impressive English skills. Thanks to his recruitment into the army, he became one of the most iconic performers in the film industry’s history.
A DREAM COME TRUE: BRONSON’S PATH TO FAME
After completing his service in World War II and returning to the United States, Bronson studied art for a while before enrolling in drama classes at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.
Actor Charles Bronson poses backstage after presenting the “Best Supporting Actress” award during the 46th Academy Awards at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
Because she was so taken aback by his abilities, one of his teachers went out of her way to recommend him to the director Henry Hathaway. Soon after, in 1951, Bronson debuted his very first picture, titled “You’re in the Navy Now.”
At the beginning of his career, he had many roles in pictures, but the rest of his performances were uncredited. The critical praise he received for his performance in the film “Vera Cruz” in 1954 helped him land the role of Machine-Gun Kelly in 1958.
He believed that people wouldn’t be fond of his name during the anti-Communist era because it sounded Russian.
American actors Charles Bronson and David Carradine relaxing at the Cannes Film Festival, 1977. | Source: Getty Images
He held other jobs besides acting. In New York State, he worked as an onion picker, short-order cook, and bricklayer. Later, he moved to Atlantic City, where he rented out benches for the boardwalk.
He also temporarily practiced painting, but he later discovered that he favored acting overpainting. However, he began production on his hit film, “Death Wish,” in 1974.
Four sequels were made over the years because this movie became so popular. James Coburn in Hard Times won praise for Bronson’s performance.
Actor Charles Bronson listens to his wife, actress Jill Ireland, play the guitar in London on 9th January 1969. | Source: Getty Images
He changed his name to Bronson in the 1950s because he thought the public wouldn’t accept his Russian-sounding name during the anti-Communist era.
But despite his growing fame, he was still troubled by the gloom of his early years. According to his co-star Andrew Stevens, Bronson stayed clear of those who made him feel uncomfortable or scared.
However, when he felt safe and unwelcome, Bronson relaxed and was friendly, charming, and funny.
Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland in 1979 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images
BRONSON’S PERSONAL LIFE AND DEATH
Bronson was married three times in his lifetime. He was married to Harriet Tendler from 1949 until 1967; their marriage lasted for those twenty years. They were blessed with two children as a couple.
Jill Ireland was his second wife after he had been married once before. Ireland was a famous performer in the United Kingdom. She had roles in several of his movies, including “Love and Bullets” and “The Valachi Papers,” among many others.
They had one child together, and she died of cancer in 1990. Kim Weeks was his third wife, and they were married from 1998 until 2003. After the child’s passing, the actor made it a personal mission to contribute to the John Wayne Cancer Institute in any way he could.
Actor Charles Bronson in a still from the film ‘The Stone Killer’, 1973. | Source: Getty Images
In his later years, Bronson was identified with Alzheimer’s disease. His illness was described as a “stark contrast to the high-octane vitality of his incredible life” in a report about it.
It was reported that Charles’ sister, Catherine Pidgeon, had said that the family had known for almost a year that something was wrong because Charles had not been himself.
Actor Charles Bronson poses for a portrait circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
She also mentioned that Bronson spoke slowly and occasionally slurred his words. However, he was still aware of his family and wanted to celebrate Christmas 2001 with them.
After a battle with pneumonia, his health took a sharp turn for the worse over a few weeks, on August 20, 2003. He was 81 years old when he passed away at the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.
Kim, Bronson’s partner, is the one who will carry on after him. His three daughters, Suzanne, Katrina Holden-Bronson, and Zuleika, were also left behind after he passed away. In addition, he was the father of a son, Paul and Valentine McCallum, his stepsons, and two grandchildren.
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