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Actor James Mason dead at 75

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Veteran actor James Mason, who was born the aristocratic British gentleman he played so well on the screen, died Friday of a massive heart attack he suffered at his Lake Geneva villa. He was 75.

A three-time Oscar nominee who last played the unprincipled patrician lawyer in 'The Verdict,' was perhaps best was known for his roles as obsessive men in 'A Star is Born' and 'Lolita.' He became an American citizen in 1949.

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'James suffered a massive heart attack at 2 a.m. and was taken immediately by ambulance to the hospital in Lausanne, where he died at 6 a.m.' a friend staying at the Lake Geneva villa said. 'It was very sudden.'

'He was the most sainted human being one could ever hope to meet. He can never be replaced,' said Mason's widow, Clarissa.

Mason's daughter, Portland, flew to Switzerland to be with her stepmother. His son, Morgan, was in Los Angeles.

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A funeral service was planned for Tuesday at an English church in Vevey, a town near Corseaux, the tiny village where Mason lived in his Villa Sequoia.

The actor, who lived in his native England and in the United States before moving to Switzerland in 1962, was nominated for three Oscars in his lifetime -- the last for best supporting actor in 'The Verdict' in 1982 -- but did not win.

He said in a recent interview he had moved to Switzerland to find 'peace and solitude.'

'I live in Switzerland because I've always wanted a country home. The peace and solitude of Switzerland is tonic. The truth is I don't really care where I live so long as it is a civilized country.

'One could easily make a home in England or France as well as Switzerland. And perhaps Italy, if one is well armed.'

He was first married in 1941 to Pamela Kellino but the marriage broke up 23 years later in 1964, with Mason paying a reported $1.5 million settlement. They had one son and one daughter.

He married Clarissa Kaye, an Australian, in 1971.

Mason was born in awealthy family on May 15, 1909, in Huddersfield in the English county of Yorkshire. He attended Malborough College and then Cambridge University, earning bachelor's and master's of arts degrees in architecture before deciding he had 'a better chance of earning a living on the stage than designing buildings.'

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Mason became a stage actor in England. During the mid-1930s, he came to the attention of ex-Hollywood director Al Parker. Mason made his first film, 'Late Extra,' in 1935. He moved to Hollywood in 1946 and became an American citizen three years later.

His first major film was 'I Met a Murderer' in 1939. He went on to achieve fame in 'Odd Man Out' in 1946.

His most memorable film performances were given in a 'A Star is Born' in 1954 with Judy Garland, in which he played her alcoholic husband and 'Lolita' in 1962 in which he played a college professor obsessed with a teenage nymphet.

Other movies included 'Lord Jim' in 1965, 'Georgie Girl' in 1966, 'Heaven Can Wait' and the 'Boys from Brazil' in 1977.

In 'The Verdict' with Paul Newman, he played a Boston lawyer, an occupation he had considered in real life.

'If life were long enough, I would have enjoyed very much being a barrister,' he once said. 'It is very much akin to being an actor.'

In Beverly Hills, California, first wife, Pamela, said Mason had apparently suffered previously from heart trouble.

'We learned he had a pacemaker put in about a year ago, which very few people knew about,' she said.

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In London, veteran actor and lifelong friend Stewart Granger called Mason 'a humble and wonderful man.'

'He was one of the closest friends I ever had,' Granger said. 'He was a wonderful actor and a humble and wonderful man. He was one of the nicest people you would ever wish to meet in this business.'

Granger and Mason starred together in the classic 1952 version of 'The Prisoner of Zenda.'

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