HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- The tabloid jackals are pursing former screen tough guy Charles Bronson who is unwilling or unable to fight back.
It's the first fight Bronson has backed away from.
The tabloids have it that the brawny, monosyllabic Bronson is unwell and fragile, a victim of Alzheimer's and embattled with his current wife and children regarding his multi-million dollar estate.
All this in the public prints and Bronson is still alive if not kicking, although clearly not the man he was on screen chasing killers and other felons.
Photographs show a white-haired Bronson, 81, looking deeply troubled, clutching a coat at his chest, his right arm linked to his third wife, Kim Weeks, 40 years younger than the actor.
The stories claim Weeks, onetime TV bit player, has spirited Bronson away to his rustic farm in Vermont, bought years ago for actress Jill Ireland, his second wife.
According to the tabloids Weeks distanced Bronson from his large family, accusing her of battling his offspring over money.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bronson won't talk to anyone about their private lives," said the couple's press agent. "And Charlie doesn't have Alzheimer's."
Be that as it may, a cone of silence surrounds the indisposed actor, which is nothing new to Bronson.
Throughout his career of more than 100 movies and innumerable TV shows, Bronson has been a taciturn, boorish loner who rarely gives interviews.
Bronson is perhaps the most surprising movie star in screen history. He started life in Pennsylvania coal mines, one of a large, impoverished family.
His real name is Buchinsky.
In his prime he was a bulldozer of man, doing things his way or not at all.
In her two autobiographical books, "Life Wish" and "Life Lines," Ireland wrote of her husband, "I've made a lot of pictures with Cholly because no other actress will work with him."
She also wrote: "Cholly never explains. He never apologizes. He is quiet and moves like a great jungle cat, padding around the house."
Those closest to Bronson say Weeks has been a good wife and companion to the actor since their marriage in 1998, eight years after Ireland's death from breast cancer.
He divorced his first wife, Harriet Tendler, in 1967 after 18 years and two children.
Bronson also has two step-sons from Ireland's first marriage to actor David McCallum. They also reared teenager Katrina, daughter of an Ireland friend.
Bronson and Ireland had one daughter of their own. An adopted son died of a drug overdose in 1989.
None of Bronson's children has gone public to affirm or deny the scandalous stories about a family dispute over Bronson's fortune, but that hasn't stopped the tabloids from hounding the man.
It is regrettable a private, sometimes secretive man such as Bronson would spend the waning years of his life dealing with unscrupulous publications.
The ex-coal miner and World War II G.I. spent 50 years in the public eye as an actor, from bit parts in the '50s to stardom in "Death Wish" (1974) and three highly successful sequels.
Bronson found himself earning $6 million a film and more, making him a very wealthy man. But he continued his simple lifestyle except for his Bel Air mansion bordering the posh Bel Air Country Club.
Typical of Bronson, he did not join the club. Its celebrity members and expensive parties did not suit him. Instead he played golf on public courses with working stiffs.
Bronson's temper amused golfers who watched him throw clubs in frustration, once tossing a five iron into the air. It never came down, remaining to this day in an overhanging tree, as far as anyone knows.
Bronson has little humor, often standing to demonstrate his point or tell a joke with body language, partly because he is embarrassingly inarticulate. He is self-conscious about his lack of education, although he did finish high school.
Ask what college he attended and he will say, "Pasadena Playhouse" as if it were on a par with Harvard.
His Slavic features (Lithuanian) and burly physique have served Bronson well playing foreign-born characters.
He is more popular abroad than in this country. The Italians call him Il Brutto and to the French he is Le Sacre Monstre. Bronson himself has always been modest about his acting career.
He once told UPI, "I don't go to see my pictures. I'm not a fan of myself."
There are few photographs of him in his Malibu mansion where he has lived in seclusion for almost 20 years. He worked out daily in its fully equipped gym.
Bronson said of his career: "Acting is the easiest thing I've done. I guess that why I'm stuck with it.
"I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited."
Bronson emitted a rare chuckle, but he doesn't laugh much these days. He never did.