Actor Roddy McDowall Dead

by Joal Ryan
October 3, 1998, 10:25 p.m. PT

Actor Roddy McDowall, whose versatile 60-year career spanned the realm of the animal-kingdom experience--from Lassie Come Home to Planet of the Apes--not to mention the Hollywood experience, died today of cancer at his Studio City, California, home. He was 70.

The venerable performer--one of the few, along with lifelong friend Elizabeth Taylor, to transition successfully onscreen from child to adult--was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April, friend Dennis Osborne told Associated Press. Word of McDowall's ill health was leaked only recently. The precise form of cancer was not known.

"It was very peaceful," Osborne said of McDowall's passing. "It was just as he wanted it. It was exactly the way he planned."

Today, Taylor, plagued with her own set of health problems this year, described herself as "shocked and grieving."

Angela Lansbury, who costarred with McDowall in the 1971 children's movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, said, "He was the best friend you could possibly have had."

Stalwart members of old Hollywood were said to have made pilgrimages to McDowall's home in recent days--paying tribute to a most-respected member of the community.

Indeed, McDowall worked with the greats: directors John Ford (How Green Was My Valley), Fritz Lang (Man Hunt) and Orson Welles (MacBeth), included.

He costarred with Taylor in 1943's weepie classic, Lassie Come Home, and 1963's thudding bomb, Cleopatraa.

He is probably best known for masterfully hunching his shoulders, shuffling his feet and twitching his nose--all under a mountain of chimpanzee makeup--for the Planet of the Apes movies. McDowall appeared in four of the five sci-fi/fantasy flicks (missing only 1970's Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and the short-lived 1974 TV series. He recently hosted an American Movie Classics documentary on the epics, Behind the Planet of the Apes.

Born Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall on September 17, 1928, in London, the precocious performer made his screen debut in the 1938 British film, Murder in the Family. He escaped war-ravaged Britain at age 11, began a Hollywood career and never looked back.

No services were planned as yet.