Anthony Quinn was a two-time Academy Award-winning Irish-American and Mexican-American actor, as well as a painter and writer.
He is perhaps best remembered for his roles in two Hollywood films, the title role in Zorba the Greek and his Oscar-winning performance in Viva Zapata!. He is also associated with his role of the brutish circus strongman Zampanò in Federico Fellini's La Strada.
Antonio Rudolfo Oaxaca Quinn was born to an Irish father and a Mexican mother, a combination that later facilitated his playing a wide range of ethnic roles.
He grew up in the Boyle Heights and the Echo Park neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, California, attending the Polytechnic High School and later Belmont High School. He did not graduate; in the 1990s, Tucson High School in Tucson, Arizona awarded him a high school diploma.
In his youth, Quinn boxed, then studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright at the latter's Arizona residence and Wisconsin studio, Taliesin, and the two men became friends. When Quinn revealed that he was drawn to acting, Wright encouraged this major change in career direction.
After a brief stint in the theatre, Quinn launched his film career playing character roles in several 1936 films, including Parole (his debut) and The Milky Way. He mainly played ethnic villains in Paramount films through the 1940s in films such as Dangerous to Know (1938) and Road to Morocco.
By 1947, he was a veteran of over 50 films and had played everything from Indians, Mafia dons, Hawaiian chiefs, Filipino freedom-fighters, Chinese guerrillas, and comical Arab sheiks, but he was not a major star.
So he made a successful return to the theatre, including playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
Returning to the screen in the early 1950s, Quinn specialised in tough, macho roles. He was cast in a series of B-adventures like Mask of the Avenger (1951).
A big break was his playing opposite Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952). His supporting role as Zapata's brother won Quinn his first Oscar, the first Mexican-American to win any Academy Award.
He appeared in several Italian films starting in 1953, turning in one of his best performances as a dim-witted, thuggish, and volatile strongman in Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954), playing alongside Giulietta Masina.
Quinn won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for portraying the painter Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli's Van Gogh biopic, Lust for Life (1956). This award was all the more remarkable given that he was onscreen for all of 8 minutes.
The following year, he received yet another Oscar nomination for his part in George Cukor's Wild Is the Wind. In The River's Edge (1957), he played the husband of the former girlfriend (played by Debra Paget) of a killer, played by Ray Milland, who turns up with a stolen fortune and forces Quinn and Paget at gunpoint to guide him safely to Mexico.
Quinn starred in The Savage Innocents 1959 (film), in which he starred as Inuk, who finds himself caught between two clashing cultures.
As the decade came to a close, Quinn allowed his age to show, and he began his transformation into a major character actor. His formerly trim physique filled out, his hair grayed, and his once smooth, swarthy face weathered into an appealing series of crags and crinkles.
His careworn demeanour made him a convincing Greek resistance fighter in The Guns of Navarone (1961), an ideal ex-boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, and a natural for the role of Auda ibu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia (both 1962).
In that year, he also played the title role in Barabbas, based on the novel by Pär Lagerkvist. The film is an Easter season favourite down to the present day.
The success of Zorba the Greek in 1964 was arguably the high water mark of Quinn's career, and resulted in another Oscar nomination. Later successes that decade include his title role in the The Magus, based on the novel by John Fowles, and The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969).
In the 1970s, Quinn became known as a ham, albeit a well-respected one. In 1971, he starred in the short-lived television drama Man in the City. In 1977, He starred in the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (aka The Message) about the origin of Islam, and the message of prophet Mohammad. His subsequent television appearances were sporadic (among them Jesus of Nazareth).
On January 5, 1982, the Belvedere County Public Library in East Los Angeles was renamed in honour of Anthony Quinn. The present library sits on the site of his family's former home.
In 1982, he starred in the Lion of the Desert, together with Irene Papas, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, and John Gielgud. Quinn played the real-life Bedouin leader Omar Mukhtar who fought Mussolini's Italian troops in the deserts of Libya.
The film, produced and directed by Moustapha Akkad, is now critically acclaimed, but performed poorly at the box office because of negative publicity in the West at the time of its release, stemming from its having been partially funded by Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi.
In 1983, he reprised his most famous role, playing Zorba the Greek for 362 performances in a successful revival of the Kander and Ebb musical Zorba.
His film career slowed during the 1990s, but Quinn nonetheless continued to work steadily, appearing in Jungle Fever (1991), Last Action Hero (1993), and A Walk in the Clouds (1995). In 1994, he played Zeus semi-regularly on the syndicated series Hercules.
Quinn spent his last years in Bristol, Rhode Island. He died aged 86 from pneumonia and respiratory failure while suffering from terminal throat cancer, shortly after completing his role in the film Avenging Angelo (2002).
His funeral was held in a Baptist church; late in life, he had joined the Four Square evangelical Christian community. He is buried in a family plot near Bristol.
Quinn's personal life was as volatile and passionate as the characters he played in films. He was married three times:
1) The actress Katherine DeMille (Cecil B. DeMille's adopted daughter) (1937–1965), by whom he had three children; they were divorced in 1965.
2) The costume designer Iolanda Quinn (Jolanda Addolori) (1966–1997). The union crumbled in 1993 when Quinn impregnated his secretary.
3) Kathy Benvin (1997–2001) the two had a second child in 1996.
Quinn had three known mistresses and fathered a total of 13 children, among them Alex A. Quinn, Francesco Quinn, Lorenzo, Valentina, and Sean Quinn, a New Jersey real estate agent.
Painting and Writing
Prior to his acting career, Quinn painted and sketched winning various awards and competitions throughout his teenage years. Fine art later gave him an identity outside the world of acting — unscripted and his own.
Always searching and exploring, Anthony Quinn worked on perfecting his artistic style throughout the world wherever filming and his output of paintings and sculptures was extraordinary.
He championed many of the concepts central to modernist sculpture, including truth to material, direct carving, and inspiration from so-called primitive art, all of which became central to twentieth century practice.
"Found Art" as Quinn called it was another inspiration — he found art in everything from tree branches and shells to architectural fragments.
In the early 1980s Quinn's art began to be exhibited on an international level. His work is now represented in both public and private collections throughout the world.
Since his death in 2001, Quinn's art has grown significantly in popularity, selling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. More recently, his art has increased in cultural importance and evolved from commercial gallery setting to the institution of the fine art museum through an international traveling exhibition.
Various publications have written about Quinn's artistic drive and style and his work continues to be interpreted and studied.
He wrote two memoirs, The Original Sin (1972) and One Man Tango (1997), a number of scripts, and a series of unpublished stories currently in the collection of his archive.