He waited nearly 40 years to win an Oscar


James Coburn, gravel-voiced and craggy-faced, made his name playing tough guys and villains in a Hollywood career spanning more than 40 years.

The silver-haired actor first sprang to public attention in 1960 for his role as knife-throwing Britt in the epic Western The Magnificent Seven.

But it was not until much later in his career and life that his widely-acclaimed talents were finally rewarded with an Oscar.

Coburn’s anguished portrayal of an abusive father in Affliction earned him an Academy award for best supporting actor in 1998.
James Coburn pictured at the start of his career
The young Coburn studied in LA and New York
It was all the more remarkable because he had overcome a 10-year struggle with arthritis that left one hand crippled.

Despite his physical problems he had been upbeat and working regularly, recently appearing in The Man From Elysian Fields, and finishing another film, American Gun.

Born in Laurel, Nebraska, on 31 August 1928, Coburn studied acting in Los Angeles and New York.

He appeared on stage in New York and in such dramatic TV series as Studio One and General Electric Theatre in the 1950s.

He made his movie debut in Ride Lonesome in 1959, following it with another Western, Face of a Fugitive.

The following year he became a household name with The Magnificent Seven, honing the cool nonchalance that was to become his trademark.

He waited nearly 40 years to win an Oscar
Although he had few lines compared with co-stars like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, Coburn’s mere screen presence grabbed the public’s attention.

“He was a guy who looked like he was casual, but he studied and he worked and he understood character,” his manager Hillard Elkins said.

“He was a hell of an actor, he had a great sense of humour and those performances will be remembered for a very long time.”

In the late 1960s he cashed in on the James Bond mania with the humorous spy spoofs Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

He also won praise for such films as The President’s Analyst – which he also produced – the World War II adventure The Great Escape and Sam Peckinpah’s western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Actors are boring when they’re not working, it’s a natural condition, because they don’t have anything to do, they just lay around and that’s why so many of them get drunk

James Coburn
In the 1980s he all but disappeared from the screen with the onset of arthritis.

During this time, when film scripts were not arriving, Coburn said: “I’ve been reading a lot of stuff. I want to go to work. It’s what I do best; it’s the only thing I can really do.

“Actors are boring when they’re not working, it’s a natural condition, because they don’t have anything to do, they just lay around and that’s why so many of them get drunk.


“They really get to be boring people. My wife will attest to that.” His health restored, he worked steadily through the ’90s, appearing in such wide-ranging fare as Young Guns II, The Nutty Professor, The Cherokee Kid and Maverick.

James Coburn
Coburn played a variety of roles in later years
After winning a reputation for his leading roles, he capped his career with an Oscar for a supporting effort in Affliction, as Glen Whitehouse, the abusive father to Nick Nolte’s cop character.

“I’ve been working and doing this work for, like, over half my life and I finally got one right I guess,” he said.

Coburn was married twice. He had two children with his first wife, Beverly Kelly, before divorcing in 1979.

His second wife, Paula Murad, was at his side when he died.


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