Marlon Brando, Jr. (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004) was an American actor, film director, and activist. He is hailed for bringing a gripping realism to film acting and is often cited as one of the greatest and most influential actors of all time. He is also credited with helping to popularize the Stanislavski system of acting, today more commonly referred to as method acting. A cultural icon, Brando is most famous for his Academy Award-winning performances as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), as well as influential performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Last Tango in Paris (1972), and Apocalypse Now (1979). Brando was also an activist for many causes, notably the African-American Civil Rights Movement and various American Indian movements.
He initially gained acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for reprising the role of Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, a role that he had originated successfully on Broadway. He received further praise for his performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, and his portrayal of the rebel motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in The Wild One proved to be a lasting image in popular culture. Brando received Academy Award nominations for playing Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata!; Mark Antony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; and Air Force Major Lloyd Gruver in Sayonara (1957), an adaption of James Michener's 1954 novel. Brando was included in a list of Top Ten Money Making Stars three times in the 1950s, coming in at number 10 in 1954, number 6 in 1955, and number 4 in 1958.
The 1960s proved to be a fallow decade for Brando. He directed and starred in the cult western film One-Eyed Jacks, a critical and commercial flop, after which he delivered a series of box-office failures, beginning with the 1962 film adaptation of the novel Mutiny on the Bounty. After 10 years, during which he did not appear in a successful film, he won his second Academy Award for playing Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, a role critics consider among his greatest. The Godfather was then one of the most commercially successful films of all time. With that and his Oscar-nominated performance in Last Tango in Paris, Brando re-established himself in the ranks of top box-office stars, placing sixth and tenth in the Money Making Stars poll in 1972 and 1973, respectively. Brando took a four-year hiatus before appearing in The Missouri Breaks (1976). After this, he was content with being a highly paid character actor in glorified cameo roles, such as in Superman (1978) and The Formula (1980), before taking a nine-year break from motion pictures. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Brando was paid a record $3.7 million ($14 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) and 11.75% of the gross profits for 13 days' work on Superman. He finished out the 1970s with his controversial performance as Colonel Kurtz in another Coppola film, Apocalypse Now, a box-office hit for which he was highly paid and which helped finance his career layoff during the 1980s.
Brando was ranked by the American Film Institute as the fourth-greatest movie star among male movie stars whose screen debuts occurred in or before 1950. He was one of only three professional actors, along with Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, named in 1999 by Time magazine as one of its 100 Most Important People of the Century. He died of respiratory failure on July 1, 2004, at age 80.