Charles Brons was born as Charles Dennis Buchinsky to Walter Buchinsky and May. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant while his mother belonged to the Lithuanian American society. He had fourteen siblings.
Raised in a brimming family, he spoke Russian and Lithuanian as a child. It was only when he turned into teenage that he learned speaking English. After the death of his father, he took up a job at the coal mine, earning a dollar for a ton of coal that he mined.
t was during World War II that he gave up working in the mine and instead enrolled himself for military service. By 1943, he was drafted in the United States Army Air Force. He received a Purple Heart for enduring wounds during his service in the war.
After his service in World War II, he took up various odd jobs to earn a living before joining a theatrical group. After his short stay in New York, he moved to Hollywood in 1950 wherein he enrolled in acting classes.
His first ever recorded screen presence was an uncredited one of a sailor for the 1951 released film, ‘You’re In the Navy Now’. Thereafter, he played minor role in a couple of films including, ‘Pat and Mike’, ‘Miss Sadie Thompson’ and ‘House of Wax’.
In 1952, he made his television appearance for the Roger’s show, ‘Knockout’ and in an episode of ‘The Red Skelton Show’. It was his performance as Modoc warrior Captain Jack in ‘Drum Beat’ that brought his acting abilities in limelight.
In 1954, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson to sound more ‘English’. The change of surname was primarily acted upon to curb any hindrance in career due to his eastern European last name.
Throughout the 1950s and the 60s, he made several appearance in various television shows including ‘Biff Baker, USA’, ‘Sheriff of Cochise’, ‘U.S. Marshal’, ‘Hey, Jeannie!’, ‘And So Died Riabouchinska’, ‘There Was an Old Woman’ and so on.
The growing popularity and his polished acting abilities fetched him recurrent roles in various television series, ‘Have Gun – Will Travel’ and ‘Hennesey’. Furthermore, he was cast in the Western series ‘Colt .45’.
His first lead role came for the 1958 released Roger Corman’s ‘Machine-Gun Kelly’. Same year, he earned yet another lead role as Mike Kovac for the detective series, ‘Man with a Camera’, which continued to telecast until 1960. The series won him his first fan-following.
Year 1960 began with him appearing in several tele-series including, ‘Riverboat’, and ‘The Islanders’. However, it was his role of Bernardo O’Reilly in the John Sturges’ film, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ that garnered him his first actual share of fame. The film established his image as the upcoming star of Hollywood.
Two years later, he was cast yet again in a Sturges production, ‘The Great Escape’. A big budget epic film based on post-World War II era, it had him play the character of a claustrophobic Polish prisoner of war, ‘The Tunnel King’. The film was a classic hit.
Meanwhile, his tryst at the small screen continued as he was featured in a supporting role for the CBS drama, ‘Memory in White’. From 1963 until 1967, he was cast in a number of television series including, ‘Empire’, ‘The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters’, ‘The Legend of Jesse James’ and Combat!’
His reputation as a ‘tough guy’ secured him strong roles in subsequent films, such as ‘The Dirty Dozen’ that had Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine alongside him in the star cast.
Given his multi-faceted acting talent, he moved to Europe to find bigger and better opportunities. He bagged a number of roles in European films as well, starting with Sergio Leone’s film, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, ‘Guns for San Sebastian’ and ‘Cold Sweat’. He was cast in the French film ‘Rider on the Rain’.
Watching his fame growing, American audience were keen on seeing more of him in Hollywood films. As such, he moved back to US in the decade of 1970s and since then had no looking back. All his subsequent releases were successful including ‘The Valachi Papers’, ‘The Mechanic’ and ‘The Stone Killer’
Year 1974 witnessed the release of his magnum opus for Paramount Pictures by the title, ‘Death Wish’. The film had him playing the character of a New York architect, Paul Kersey. It was such a massive success that it spawned the release of four sequels in the next two decades, each having him reprise his role of Kersey.
Other than the first film of the ‘Death Wish’ series, he had one more releases slated for the year 1974, Elmore Leonard film adaptation ‘Mr. Majestyk’, which had him playing the character of an army veteran and farmer battling with local gangsters. The film was a major hit at the box office.
The following year, he starred in Walter Hill’s ‘Hard Times’. The film shot in Depression-era earned favourable reviews from the critics and audience alike. It catapulted his status as an action hero and tough guy making him rank 4th overall. His fans considered it to be his best role till date.
Following the release of back-to-back successful films, h
e appeared in average rated films like, ‘Breakheart Pass’, ‘From Noon Till Three’ and ‘Telefon’. The ensuing decade had him playing increasingly violent roles in his films some of which include ’10 to Midnight’, ‘The Evil That Men Do’, ‘Assassination’ and ‘Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects’
Some of his notable works of the 1980s decade came towards the end, with his role of a United Mine Workers leader Jock Yablonski for the TV movie, ‘Act of Vengeance’. He then gave an impressive performance in ‘The Indian Runner’. The film, ‘There is a Santa Claus’ was a breakaway from violent roles as it had him star as a compassionate newspaper editor.
In 1994, ‘Death Wish V: The Face of Death’ the last of the Death Wish franchise, was released. It marked his last theatrical release as well. Thereafter he was seen in various TV movies, such as ‘Family of Cops’, ‘Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops II’ and ‘Family of Cops III: Under Suspicion’
The film ‘Death Wish’ released in 1974 was a breakthrough movie in the career of this talented Catholic-Lithuanian born actor. The movie was a massive hit critically and commercially, earning $22 million at the box office. The overwhelming response by fans and critics led to the release of four more sequels of the film, thus turning it into a film franchise. Each of the films was well received by the audience.
He married thrice in his lifetime. The first was to Harriet Tendler in Philadelphia in 1949. The couple was blessed with two children. They separated in 1965.
He then married actress Jill Ireland on October 5, 1968. They were blessed with two children.
The relationship continued until Jill Ireland’s death in 1990. Eight years later, he married Kim Weeks, a former employee of Dove Audio. The couple remained married for five years until his death in 2003.
In the last few years of his life, his health deteriorated badly with him suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He underwent a hip-replacement surgery in 1998. He breathed his last on August 30, 2003 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center