HOLLYWOOD — Orson Welles, the Hollywood boy wonder who by the age of 26 had terrified the nation with a radio tale of a Martian invasion and created and starred in the classic "Citizen Kane," his first film, was found dead Thursday in his residence here, apparently of natural causes. He was 70.
Welles was found in an upstairs bedroom by his chauffeur, police said, adding that he been treated recently for what his personal physician said was "a heart condition."
Welles, best known for his breakthrough 1941 motion picture "Citizen Kane," had been a major figure in the worlds of cinema, theater and radio for nearly 50 years. He has been hailed by many critics as a genius, but one whose talents remained unfulfilled.
Despite his legendary ability as a movie maker, Welles had not made or appeared in a Hollywood-made motion picture since "Touch of Evil" in 1957.
For the past decade, he has made what he called "grocery money" by appearing in television and radio commercials, most notably the Paul Masson wine spots in which he made famous the phrase "We will sell no wine before its time."
In radio, he almost caused a nationwide panic with his shockingly authentic newscast-style version of H.G. Wells' science fiction fantasy "War of the Worlds," broadcast Oct. 30, 1938.
Welles died about 10:30 a.m., according to police, who said he was found beside his bed, dressed in a bathrobe, by chauffeur Fred Gillet, who had come to pick him up 15 minutes earlier.
Welles' home is in Las Vegas, but when in Hollywood he stayed in a four-bedroom, hillside home that was part of the estate left by the late L. Arnold Weissberger, a New York attorney whose clients had included Welles, Sir Laurence Olivier and Igor Stravinsky. Weissberger died in New York in 1981.
Although he had played no part in a major motion picture for nearly three decades, Welles was still active, looking for film properties to produce, direct and star in as recently as last spring.
And Welles remained a great figure in the Hollywood community--in fact, according to a recent biographer, he was held in such awe by modern film makers that they could not believe he still wanted to work in movies.
His deep, sonorous voice and commanding presence made him an almost mythical figure, according to author Barbara Leaming.
"They're all in awe," she quoted director Henry Jaglom as saying. "They all love him. Yet Orson Welles is such a commanding myth they don't see the man. In a world where they give little kids $30 million, they won't touch Orson Welles."
Leaming wrote that Welles was "struggling against the brilliance of his own past" and recently said of himself: "The word 'genius' was the first thing I heard since I was mewling in my crib. So it never occurred to me that I wasn't (a genius) until middle age."
He was born George Orson Welles on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wis., the second son of wealthy parents. His father was an inventor and manufacturer who himself came from a rich Virginia family. His mother was the former Beatrice Ives, who died when Welles was 8 years old.
Welles first wife was Virginia Nicholson, an actress. He later married superstar Rita Hayworth. His third and last wife was the Italian countess and actress Paopla Mori.
Welles made his acting debut at the age of 16 in Dublin's famed Gate Theater, playing the part of the evil Duke of Wurtemberg in "Jew Suss." He received good notices for his work in the 1931 production.