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George Hamilton

George Hamilton

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Also Known As: George Stevens Hamilton Died:
Born: August 12, 1939 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Memphis, Tennessee, USA Profession: Cast ... actor TV host entrepreneur spokesperson
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BIOGRAPHY

Handsome, charming, self-amused and of course, deeply tanned, George Hamilton was an actor whose long career in film and television was consistently overshadowed by his dashing persona both on and off-screen. Frequently cast as cads or hopeless romantics in films during the late 1950s and early 1960s, he enjoyed success in lightweight roles, but yearned for more substantive parts. His attempts to achieve such roles in the mid-1960s, such as his turn as Hank Williams in "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1964), were met largely with dismissal. He floundered through the 1970s until striking gold with "Love at First Bite" (1979), a winning comedy which cast him as a vain Count Dracula. Hamilton's ability to mock his own image proved his saving grace, and he enjoyed a fruitful run in the 1990s and 2000s as a comic presence in numerous films and television shows, often as himself. His longevity in show business was proof positive that a career not only had second acts, but could surpass all expectations.

Born August 12, 1939 in Memphis, TN, he was the son of Southern society matron Ann Spaulding, whose second husband (of four), bandleader George "Spike" Hamilton, was his father. Hamilton moved extensively throughout the South due to his father's performing engagements before eventually settling in Palm Beach, FL. There, he developed a taste for acting through numerous high school plays, and eventually won top honors in a statewide acting contest. After deciding that Hollywood held the key to his fortune, he relocated to Los Angeles in the late fifties, where his pin-up worthy looks and effortless self-assurance helped land him one of the last studio contracts with MGM.

He proved a natural for brooding, romantic young heroes, as well as the occasional heel in B-pictures like "Crime and Punishment, USA" (1959), which earned him a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. Hamilton eventually settled into a string of youthful leads in melodramas and sudsy romances; his flawless features provided considerable distraction - and temptation for the likes of Mercedes McCambridge in "Angel Baby" (1961), Lana Turner in "By Love Possessed" (1961) and Yvette Mimeux in "A Light in the Piazza" (1962). Though he received the occasional award for his efforts, most notably a BAFTA nomination for "Piazza," Hamilton was largely perceived as a lightweight actor by studios and critics alike, and as such, frequently found himself in such trifles as "Where The Boys Are" (1960).

Hamilton attempted to break the mold that was forming rapidly around him with such decidedly non-heartthrob roles as the ill-fated country singer Hank Williams in the biopic "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1964) and a Mexican revolutionary romanced by Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle's Western parody, "Viva Maria!" (1965). Neither proved particularly helpful to his career, and by the mid-'60s, Hamilton was drawing more attention from his relationship with First Daughter Lynda Bird Johnson than for his film roles. The dissolution of the studio system, and the rise of intense, often Method-driven actors like Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Elliott Gould helped to render a traditional Hollywood leading man like Hamilton obsolete. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was stranded in forgettable efforts like "The Power" (1968). There was a brief return to the limelight with "Evel Knievel" (1971), which Hamilton co-produced in addition to starring as the pop culture hero, but within a few years, he was slogging through such miserable projects as "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington" (1977) and "Sextette" (1978).

In 1979, Hamilton discovered that gentle self-parody was the key to success, which he parlayed to great effect in Stan Dragoti's "Love at First Bite" (1979). A charming mix of slapstick and romantic comedy, Hamilton's Dracula arrives in modern-day New York, where he struggles to align his Old World charms with a new breed of women. Critics praised Hamilton for his comic skills, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination and quite possibly the first degree of respect from critics since his earliest days in Hollywood. He attempted to follow the success of "Bite" with another movie parody, "Zorro, The Gay Blade" (1981), but the results were largely tasteless.

With a new career direction firmly in place, Hamilton played up the camp in numerous television appearances, most notably a season-long guest stint on "Dynasty" (ABC, 1981-89) as a producer who attempts to murder John Forsythe's Blake Carrington. He was also put to excellent use in countless commercials which played up his impeccable sartorial style and smooth repartee to plug their products. Hamilton himself served as pitchman for several businesses, including a line of tanning products and a tanning salon franchise. There were occasional bumps along the road - in the late 1980s, Hamilton was called to testify against former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda during their racketeering trial. The actor had befriended the eccentric duo during a promotional tour through the country for "Love at First Bite," and had become entangled in several financial schemes. But for the most part, Hamilton was content and busy as a tongue-in-cheek symbol of classic Tinseltown and the Good Life in general.

Despite his popularity, Hamilton did not return to movies until 1990, when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as an oily lawyer for the Corleone family in "The Godfather Part III." Critics initially raised an eyebrow at the choice, but Hamilton proved to be among the film's limited saving graces. He soon settled into a string of bit and supporting roles in features and television; often as wealthy and self-absorbed older men, but more often than not, comic roles that played to his strength in self-parody. But as the 1990s wore on, audiences seemed more interested in seeing Hamilton play himself than any particular role, and he began to develop a second career as a TV personality. At one point, however, when his son Ashley rapidly married television's then biggest off-screen wild child, Hamilton became famous for briefly being the father-in-law of Shannen Doherty of "90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) fame.

With former wife Alana Stewart, he launched a lighthearted daytime talk show, "George and Alana" (syndicated, 1995-96) before joining the celebrity panel on a revival of "Match Game" (syndicated, 1998). A stint as the host of the reality series "The Family" (ABC, 2003), which pitted the members of a large Italian-American brood against each other for cash prizes, preceded an endearing run on the first season of "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ). Once again, humor proved Hamilton's secret weapon; he broke out his Zorro costume and threw himself into deliberately campy numbers that not only dispelled concerns over his recent knee surgery, but advanced him all the way to Round 6 in the competition.

Hamilton's success on "Stars" placed him in the forefront of likely successors to Bob Barker as host of "The Price is Right" (CBS, 1972- ). He bore his loss to comic Drew Carey with typical good grace, moving to a vast array of other projects, including a stint on Broadway as slick lawyer Billy Flynn in "Chicago." The following year, he released an autobiography, Don't Mind If I Do (2008), a charming and undeniably readable account of his professional and private life, including details of his numerous romances with, among others, Elizabeth Taylor, Danielle Steele, and actress Kimberly Blackford, who bore him a son, George Thomas, at the age of 61.

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