Hollywood celebrities are frequently surrounded by glitz, giving the appearance that every celebrity is a natural star.
This is not always the case, and Charles Bronson, a legendary Hollywood actor, was not one of them. Bronson’s birth name, Charles Dennis Buchinsky, had a bad life in general and a particularly awful childhood growing up in Croyle Township, some 60 miles from Pittsburgh.
He grew up with 14 other siblings, coming in ninth place out of a total of 15. Even though the cost of raising a single child is well recognized, consider the burden on a low-income household. This was exactly the situation for Bronson.
Bronson and his large family lived in a small, company-built cabin just yards from the coal car lines. Because the house was too small to accommodate such a large family, they had to take turns sleeping.
“There was no love in my house,” he confessed. “The only time I had physical contact with my mother was when she took me between her knees to pull lice out of my hair.”
The town as a whole was a rather bleak and desolate location, catering exclusively to business authorities looking to facilitate coal mining and increase profits. However, it wasn’t just the Bronson family who had a difficult time.
There was little natural beauty, the water quality was poor, and the future was grim. It’s not unexpected that Bronson characterized his upbringing as lonely and unhappy.
Things became increasingly difficult for Bronson when his father died while he was a teenager. He was used to bargaining for pennies, but he was forced to drop out of school to support his family. The only reasonable conclusion to be reached from this is to work as a coal miner.
Even as an adult, Bronson’s memories of this period haunted him. He’d never forget the exhausting exertion or the pungent coal odor that filled his nose. Bronson had the sensation of breathing in black dust while living on his hands and knees.
He recalled countless headaches and how hard and filthy his hands were while working as a miner. Bronson claims he was born with a shovel in his mouth rather than a spoon.
Above and beyond the physical impacts, however, was a considerably more serious psychological effect: his experience working as a coal miner left him with a profound inferiority problem.
“I was just a kid when I was a miner, but I was convinced that I was the lowest of all forms of man,” he remarked.
In truth, all of the coal miners in his area, according to Bronson, shared the same complex; they believed that steelworkers and railroad workers were the ‘elite’ and that they were the lowest class of human beings.
“Very few people understand what it’s like to live beneath the world’s surface, in that total darkness.”
He was ecstatic when he was finally accepted into the army. Finally, he could escape his depressing surroundings and know that he would be fed and clothed. This period in his life will pave the way for Bronson to become one of Hollywood’s most renowned individuals.
After serving in WWII, Bronson returned to the United States and began studying art before enrolling at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.
His abilities and capabilities were instantly apparent: one teacher spotted them early on and sent the young Bronson to filmmaker Henry Hathaway. This led to him getting cast in his very first film, 1951’s You’re in the Navy Now.
While his early work sometimes went undetected, by 1954, his work in Vera Cruz and, four years later, as the lead in Machine-Gun Kelly had earned him recognition from critics.
In addition to acting, Bronson worked as a painter, cook, bricklayer, and onion picker early in his career. He also legally changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson in the 1950s, fearing that his Russian-sounding name would not be well-received at a period when communism was widely opposed.
But it wasn’t until 1974 that he received his big break, as Paul Kersey, a vigilante architect whose wife and daughter are attacked, in Death Wish. Because of the film’s success, several sequels were produced over the next few decades.
Bronson rose to prominence after portraying the famed drifter James Coburn in Hard Times.
It took him some time to adjust to his famous status, and Bronson is said to have been haunted by his bleak beginnings.
According to co-star Andrew Stevens, he avoided those who were invasive or made him feel frightened. When he was calm and at ease, Bronson was known to be candid, engaging, and humorous.
Bronson had two children with his first wife, Harriet Tendler, whom he married from 1949 to 1965.
Jill Ireland, a popular British actress who featured in 15 films with Bronson, including The Valachi Papers and Love and Bullets, was his second wife. Ireland tragically died of cancer in 1990, leaving behind two children.
Bronson married for the third time in December 1998 to Kim Weeks, a former employee of an audiobook firm who had participated in the recording of Ireland’s audiobooks.
Bronson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life. His illness struggle was described as a “stark contrast to the high-octane vitality of his incredible life.”
The celebrity was periodically seen wandering around Beverly Hills, perplexed. Fortunately, actor Weeks’ wife Weeks was nearby to assist him.
“The family has known for almost a year that something was wrong because Charles just hasn’t been himself,” said Charles’ sister, Catherine Pidgeon.
According to Pidgeon, Bronson had begun to slur his words and speak more slowly, but he could still recognize his family and spent Christmas 2001 with them.
Bronson’s health drastically deteriorated after catching pneumonia in just a few weeks. He died on August 30, 2003, at the age of 81, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife Kim, three daughters, Suzanne, Katrina Holden-Bronson, and Zuleika, a son, two stepsons, Paul and Valentine McCallum, and two grandkids.
What a life-long journey Charles Bronson had to go on! Every child deserves a secure, joyous childhood full with life-changing events.
I’m pleased that Bronson was able to leave his traumatic past behind and build out a successful career for himself, one that is still fresh in the minds of so many people today. Please share if you like Charles Bronson!