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Versatile actor Jose Ferrer, acclaimed as 'Cyrano,' dies


Jose Ferrer, renowned as the cool, cerebral, and idiosyncratic actor who won an Academy Award playing Cyrano de Bergerac, died yesterday at Doctors' Hospital, in Coral Gables, Fla.

A family spokesman gave his age as 80, although some reference works said he was 83. He was a resident of Miami. His family said he died after a brief illness but did not disclose its nature.

Ferrer's work spanned the stage, films and television for more than half a century. He organized a successful cruise ship band in college, played Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello, appeared in the original television pilot of "Kojak," sang opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Beverly Hills Opera and made guest appearances on the "Newhart" TV series.

His first Tony Award came in 1947, for his role as the lovelorn lead in "Cyrano de Bergerac." A television version followed in 1949. His film performance of the role captured the Academy Award in 1950. That same year, he played opposite Gloria Swanson in "Twentieth Century" on stage, just after she had filmed "Sunset Boulevard." Her contract stipulated that she appear only with him.

In 1952, he won three Critics' Circle prizes and twin Tony Awards on Broadway. One Tony was for directing three different plays, "Stalag 17," "The Fourposter" and "The Shrike," which also won the Pulitzer Prize. The second Tony was for acting in "The Shrike."

He ended that year by filming "Moulin Rouge," directed by John Huston. In it, the tall Ferrer literally got down on his knees, with his legs strapped up, to portray the hobbling Toulouse-Lautrec. His performance won another Oscar nomination.

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Jose Vicente Ferrer y Cintron made his first visit to the mainland as a young boy for an operation on his palate. His family moved permanently to the mainland when he was 6. His parents were from Spain, and his father was a lawyer.

Young Ferrer attended public and private schools in New York City. He passed the entrance examination for Princeton University at the precocious age of 14, but at the urging of Princeton, he first took an extra year of preparation at a school in Switzerland. He was a promising young pianist, and for a time was expected to became a concert performer.

Once at Princeton, however, he turned to the study of architecture. But show business tugged at him as he got involved with campus productions that also drew the likes of James Stewart and Joshua Logan.

His film debut was as the Dauphin with Ingrid Bergman in "Joan of Arc" in 1948, which earned the first of his three Oscar nominations.

In his later years in film, he played in movies as disparate as "The Caine Mutiny," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Ship of Fools" and Woody Allen's "Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy." On Broadway, he starred in "Man of La Mancha" and directed "The Andersonville Trial."

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