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Orson Welles, a Falstaffian genius who at 26 indelibly...

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- Orson Welles, a Falstaffian genius who at 26 indelibly etched his name in motion picture history by producing, directing and starring in the epic 'Citizen Kane,' died Thursday at his home of an apparent heart attack. He was 70.

Detective Russell Kuster said a chauffeur found Welles in an upstairs bedroom of his Hollywood Hills home about 10 a.m. and called police and a physician.

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'There is no evidence of foul play,' Kuster said. 'It's obvious the death was of natural causes.'

Welles Biographer, Barbara Leaming, dined with him Wednesday night at Ma Maison, a Hollywood restaurant and a frequent haunt of Welles.

'He was fine,' said Leaming, who sobbed as she appeared at a news conference in New York. 'He was in absolutely top Orsonian form.'

'I think I'll always remember seeing him last night,' she said. 'He was very sweet to me, as he always was, but he was particularly sweet yesterday.'

Leaming said Welles at the time of his death was talking to backers about producing a film of 'King Lear' and was planning two other films - one to be called 'The Dreamers' based on two short stories by Danish writer Isak Dinesen and another project about which she would not disclose details.

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'Dying wasn't something that Orson had in mind,' said Leaming, author of 'Orson Welles: A Biography.'

Patrick Terrail, owner of Ma Maison, where the actor ate almost every day, said that 'Orson was in great good health and in fine spirits' on the eve of his death.

'He had just done the Merv Griffin show. He was talking about renegotiating his contract with Paul Masson about doing wine commercials. He also was talking about directing a segment of 'Amazing Stories' for Steven Spielberg.

'I think I'll always remember seeing him last night,' she said. 'He was very sweet to me, as he always was, but he was particularly sweet yesterday.'

Leaming said Welles at the time of his death was talking to backers about producing a film of 'King Lear' and was planning two other films - one to be called 'The Dreamers' based on two short stories by Danish writer Isak Dinesen and another project about which she would not disclose details.

'Dying wasn't something that Orson had in mind,' said Leaming, author of 'Orson Welles: A Biography.'

Patrick Terrail, owner of Ma Maison, where the actor ate almost every day, said that 'Orson was in great good health and in fine spirits' on the eve of his death.

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'He had just done the Merv Griffin show. He was talking about renegotiating his contract with Paul Masson about doing wine commercials. He also was talking about directing a segment of 'Amazing Stories' for Steven Spielberg.

'I've never seen him with a greater desire to live in the past 10 years.'

Another indication that Welles had a number of projects in mind at the time of his death came from actor Burt Reynolds, who said he had lunch with Welles at Ma Maison Monday.

'We met to talk about writing together a segment of the new 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' (television) series which he would direct and in which I would star,' said Reynolds, who was shaken at the news of Welles' death and had difficulty speaking.

'We were both very excited. He later called me three times to say he couldn't sleep because he was so excited and had so many ideas for the show. I'm devastated.'

In addition to monumental achievement in 'Citizen Kane,' considered by many film critics the greatest movie ever made, Welles was best known for his Halloween 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' 'The War of the Worlds.'

Welles broadcast a cautionary introduction that the story was merely a fictional adaptation.

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But his trademark basso profundo, booming out the frightening tale of Martians invading New Jersey, sent waves of panic rolling through radio listeners from Maine to Georgia.

Frightened listeners poured into the streets. Many choked egress highways in cars filled with family and possessions.

In the publicity ensuing from 'The War of the Worlds' epic, Welles, dubbed the 'boy genius,' was invited to Hollywood to produce and direct movies.

A scant three years later he wrote, produced, directed and starred in 'Citizen Kane,' a fact-and-fiction account of the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst. The immense success at such a tender age came to a man who only one year earlier had seen his first movie set.

In a recent interview, Welles -- a man who lived life to the limit - had this to say about death:

'I rejoice in the presence of death because I think it's what makes life brilliant and beautiful. And without it the world would be ridiculous. I'm interested in it from every point of view. My interest has not dimmedwith its approach.'

Welles was the third superstar of the entertainment world to die within the past week.

Film star Rock Hudson lost his battle with AIDS Oct. 2. Actor Yul Brynner died early Wednesday of complications of lung cancer.

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Then Welles.

'These have not been good days for show business with the passing of Rock Hudson, Yul Brynner and now Orson Welles,' said Janet Leigh, who appeared with Welles in 'Touch of Evil.'

'That's quite a few giants in a very few days,' she said. 'It's a shock when you lose people of this stature. I'm sorry. We all wish we could have made more use of Orson's genius.'

Welles was a huge man, 6-foot-2, and frequently more than 300 pounds. He was partial to wearing capes, which made him look even more imposing.

Welles was a Falstaffian drinker of epic proportion, addicted to immense cigars. He frequently startled those around him with his strange, cackling laugh.

Welles won a special Academy Award in 1970 'for supreme artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures.'

However, Hollywood considered him an 'enfant terrible' whose voracious appetites made him too irresponsible to win financing for his ideas. In later years he was unable to launch those projects.

'Now I'm an old Christmas tree, the roots of which have died,' he said bitterly, accepting his Academy Award. 'They just come along, and while the little needles fall off me, replace them with medallions.'

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Welles was honored by the American Film Institute in February, 1975, as the recipient of the third annual Life Achievement Award, won previously only by director John Ford and James Cagney.

Learning of Welles's death, actor Gene Hackman said: 'It was a shame a man of that brilliance wasn't allowed to mature as an artist. He was so outlandish he was passed up by Hollywood and wasn't allowed to fulfill his great promise.'

Welles's attorney and family spokesman, Eli Blumefeld, said Welles had been seeing a doctor for seven or eight years for a heart condition.

'He died in his sleep of a heart attack,' Blumefeld said. 'But we don't know when he died, probably somewhere around 5 a.m.'

Blumefeld said Welles most recently had worked in commercials and films, which he said was 'probably just as hard or harder as when he was directing.'

Among his best-known television commercials were the ones for Paul Masson. The Welles trademark was the booming, 'We will sell no wine before its time.'

Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wis., the son of Richard Head Welles, a manufacturer and eccentric inventor; and Beatrice Ives Welles, a concert pianist.

Both parents loved to travel and as a child Welles toured the United States, Europe and Asia. His first formal education was at age 11 at the Todd School in Woodstock, Ill., but he soon proved so brilliant that in the next four years the school virtually revolved around him.

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It was there he staged his first production, 'Julius Caesar,' playing with ease two parts in Shakespeare's play.

He was tutored in art by Boris Anisfield, a noted Russian painter, who advised his pupil to study abroad. At 15 Welles went to Ireland, and a year later made his first stage appearance, at Dublin's Gate Theatre, and a few years later was playing on Broadway with Katharine Cornell.

In 1943 he sawed Rita Hayworth in two in a magic show, then married her. That lasted four years.

Welles played 'Macbeth' in blackface and wrote a school textbook on Shakespeare.

Welles played the role of 'The Shadow' on radio and was the voice of doom on the original 'March Of Time.' He won critical praise for his performance in 'The Third Man.'

He teamed up with John Houseman, a fledgling producer, to form the Mercury Theatre Group in which Welles was both actor and director.

At the same time, the indefatigable Welles was doing 12 to 15 weekly radio shows and sold CBS on the Mercury Theater of the Air.

After 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' Welles went on to prolific productions in the theater, movies and television.

But in later years, spurned by Hollywood's moguls because they perceived him to be uncontrollable, Welles spent most of his time in Europe, seeking but not finding other heights to ascend.

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His last American film was 'Touch of Evil' in 1957. But he directed several other movies during the 1950s and 1960s in Europe, among them 'The Trial,' 'Chimes at Midnight,' 'The Deep' and 'The Immortal Story.'

In the mid-1970s Welles made his home in a country house near Madrid with his third wife, Paola Mori, an Italian actress he married in 1950.

He was previously married to Virginia Nicholson, a Chicago socialite, in 1938 and divorced in 1940. He was married to Hayworth from 1943 to 1947.

Besides Mori, Welles is survived by three children, Christopher, Rebecca and Columbina -- one from each of his marriages.

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