"Bad advice? Bad instincts? Bad karma?," Time magazine's Schickel asked in his 1991 book "Brando." "Or just plain bad pictures -- a run of them without precedent in the annals of stardom?"

Whatever the causes, the loss to films, said film critic Peter Rainer, was "incalculable."

"Hollywood's commercial, studio-tooled projects came to represent everything Brando stood against as a performer, and he chose to give up," Rainer said. ".'Last Tango in Paris' and 'On the Waterfront' are two of the four or five greatest performances ever given, but there should have been many more It's a cultural tragedy."

There would be other bad choices and other failures -- "The Score" (2001) comes to mind -- but Brando would also do "A Dry White Season." And in "The Freshman," released in 1990, he won critical praise for a send-up of his own "Godfather" character. As Michael Sragow, writing in the Baltimore Sun, put it, "The Freshman" has "one of those moments that sends a thrill up the spines of moviegoers: the sight of Brando, as an Italian mobster named Carmine Sabatini, skating across a rink like an improbably graceful ice boat."

Not much of note or quality followed those roles.

There were plans afoot for him to star as an aging Latin dictator in a film of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Autumn of the Patriarch," which Sean Penn wanted to direct, but the project never came together. Brando was quoted as saying it was the "role I wish to bow out on."

Brando wed British actress Anna Kashfi in 1957 and divorced her two years later. A 1960 marriage to Movita Castenada, whom he met on the set of "Viva Zapata," lasted barely a year. In 1962, he met his third wife, Tarita Teriipaia, a 19-year-old former dishwasher and floor show dancer who played his lover in "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Brando's heirs are difficult to document, but it is believed he is survived by Teriipaia and children Christian (by Kashfi); Miko and Rebecca (by Castenada); Teihotuv by Teriipaia (Teriipaia was also the mother of Cheyenne); Ninnav Priscilla, Myles and Timothy by his former maid, Maria Ruiz; Stefano, and Petra Barrett, whom he adopted in 1984.

Once asked if he was afraid of death, Brando quoted Marc Antony, whom he played in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 film of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar":

"Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come."

Times staff writers Claudia Eller and Susan King contributed to this report.