Actor Charles Bronson

Long before "Gladiator," "Shaft," "The Patriot," and other such vengeance-themed films, there was Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" series. In the first film, in 1974, the craggy actor played an architect-turned-vigilante who sets out to kill the muggers who murdered his wife.

The movie struck a chord in a nation battling urban crime. "Death Wish" was a controversial hit. Four sequels followed. Mr. Bronson became one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

Born Charles Buchinsky to Russian and Lithuanian parents, he was the 11th of 15 children. He grew up in poverty in a rough Pennsylvania mining town.

Bronson became involved in theater by painting sets. Theater roles followed, which opened the door to Hollywood. He appeared in such popular TV series as "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza," as well as in films like "The Magnificent Seven" (1960), "The Great Escape" (1963), and "The Dirty Dozen" (1967).

Bronson cut back on acting in the 1990s after the death of his wife of many years, actress Jill Ireland. His latest acting role was in last year's TV movie "Family of Cops 3," where he met and later married co-star Kim Weeks.

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