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James Gandolfini: Several legends have died of sudden heart attacks

June 21, 2013|By Susan King
  • Peter Finch, who was a posthumous Oscar winner for "Network," died of a heart attack Jan. 14, 1977 at the age of 60.
Peter Finch, who was a posthumous Oscar winner for "Network,"… (MGM )

Early-morning news reports from Rome on Friday announced what everyone already expected: The brilliant Emmy Award-winning actor James Gandolfini's untimely death Wednesday at the age of 51 was caused by a heart attack.

Sadly, Gandolfini is just the latest of a number of well-respected actors and performers who stunned the world when they suddenly died of a heart attack.

Peter Finch

The British-born Australian actor was on top of the world in January 1977, basking in the glow of thunderous reviews for his indelible performance as the "mad as hell" TV news anchor Howard Beale in Sidney Lumet's 1976 classic "Network."

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The 60-year-old actor was in high spirits when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Jan 13, 1977. The following morning, he was in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel waiting to have breakfast with Lumet and then appear with him on ABC's "Good Morning America."  But he suffered a heart attack in the lobby and was rushed to UCLA, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Two months after his death, Finch became the first performer to win a posthumous Oscar, earning the lead actor honor. The award was accepted by his wife, Eletha Barrett, and "Network" writer Paddy Chayefsky.

John Garfield

The New York actor excelled in playing tough guys and conflicted film noir heroes in such classics as 1946's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," earning Oscar nominations for 1938's "Four Daughters" and 1947's "Body and Soul."

As a teenager, though, John Garfield had suffered permanent heart damage due to a bout of rheumatic fever. His heart prevented him from serving in World War II.

RELATED: James Gandolfini autopsy results

Garfield was under tremendous stress in the spring of 1952. The father of two young children had moved his family back to New York. Movie roles had dried up because of the Communist blacklist in Hollywood. He had just appeared in an unsuccessful revival of "Golden Boy."

Newly estranged from his wife, he met actress Iris Whitney for dinner on May 20, 1952, and died of a heart attack that night in her apartment. He was 39.

Some 10,000 fans descended upon his funeral three days later at the Riverside Memorial Chapel.

Tyrone Power

When he was 17 years old, Tyrone Power held his actor-father Tyrone Power Sr. in his arms as his dad died of a heart attack.

Within a few years of his father's death, Power became one of Hollywood's major stars, appearing in "The Razor's Edge," "Witness for the Prosecution" and "Nightmare Alley."

In the fall of 1958, he was in Madrid filming "Solomon and Sheba." On Nov. 15, Power had just finished filming a dueling sequence with George Sanders when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died en route to the hospital. He was just 44. Yul Brynner took over the role of Solomon.

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Dick Shawn

One of the most inventive comedic minds of his era, Dick Shawn was best known for role as the swinging hipster Hitler in Mel Brooks' 1968 movie "The Producers."

On April 17, 1987 Shawn was performing at Mandeville Center at UC San Diego. During his act, he collapsed face down on the stage. The audience thought it was part of his routine and began laughing. In fact, five minutes went by before the audience realized something was horribly wrong. A doctor who was in the house went up onstage and an ambulance was called. A local hospital tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late. Shawn was 63.

Redd Foxx

As the caustic junk man Fred Sanford on the hit 1970s NBC comedy series "Sanford and Son," Redd Foxx would grasp his heart like he was having an attack every time he was angry at his son Lamont. He would then proclaim that he'd soon be joining his late wife Elizabeth in the hereafter.

Tragically, Foxx died of a heart attack Oct. 12, 1991 while rehearsing an  episode of his new CBS sitcom, "The Royal Family" at Paramount Studios. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital four hours after his collapse. He was 68.

Geraldine Page

Geraldine Page, who won the lead actress Oscar for 1985's "The Trip to Bountiful," was having a great time on Broadway the summer of 1987 earning a Tony nomination for her comedic turn as the outrageous Madame Arcati in a revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit."

But then on June 13, she didn't arrive for Saturday's two performances and the understudy had to go on.  At the end of the evening performance, producer Karl Allison broke the sad news to the audience and the cast that Page had died of a heart attack. She was 62.

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susan.king@latimes.com

Twitter: @mymackie

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