Academy mascot found dead in Hollywood

Coroner's officials remove body of Hollywood icon from his home.
Hollywood, CA - Oscar, the ageless icon of the American movie industry, was found dead in his Hollywood apartment Wednesday morning.  He was 87.

The cause of death is still under investigation, but foul play “has been ruled out” said county coroner investigative officer Ramon Navarro.  “He was beloved but, still, we have to check out every angle,” Navarro said. “Not everyone was happy with him.”

“We’re still in shock at today’s news,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Oscar was pure gold—a loyal, straight up guy in a business not known for those traits. He’ll be sorely missed.”

“I’m devastated,” said Academy Award winner Meryl Streep. “He was a mensch. We all thought he’d be around forever. He never seemed to age.”

“I just saw him two weeks ago and he seemed tired—like ‘fed up’ tired,” said longtime friend Jodie Foster. “He said a few things about the movies and lawyers and cable TV that I didn’t quite get. He was especially bitter about digital. It was just the usual ‘cranky Oscar’ stuff, you know? I gave him a ride home and didn’t think anything of it.”

Oscar was born in Chicago in 1928 to Charles Shumway, an Illinois foundry owner.  As a young man, he came to the west coast with family friend Cedric Gibbons (a younger brother, Tony, found his own destiny in New York City in the 1940s).  A producer who saw him in the showers at the Hollywood Athletic Club brought Oscar to MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, who is credited with having discovered him. Mayer saw in the young man a sturdy blandness that suited his new endeavor to honor the creative talent in films.

Oscar became a mainstay during Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” often seen in the company of luminaries with names such as Gable, Huston, Cagney, Bogart, Ford, Peck, and Poitier  as well as more contemporary stars like Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino.

In the early 1970s, he head-butted George C. Scott who, after a night of drinking, called Oscar “washed up, a tin god,” said Ed Maven, a longtime bartender at the Formosa CafĂ© in West Hollywood, once a popular watering hole for Hollywood’s elite. “If he could’ve raised one of those arms, he would’ve put George in Cedars,” Maven said.

Oscar at after-partywith activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who
accepted Best Actor award for Marlon Brando, 1973.
Oscar was also irresistible to the ladies, often on the arm of Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly, or lighting cigarettes for Bette Davis. “He had some stories,” said Lily Tigner, who worked as hostess at the Wilshire Blvd. Brown Derby in the 1950’s and 60’s.  “He spent a whole weekend at the Hollywood Roosevelt with Sacheen Littlefeather,” she said with a wink, “but he was discreet.”

A changing Hollywood put the kibosh on Oscar’s mood for socializing. In a 2011 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he railed about a “lack of class” and actors showing up at premiers “dressed like their ten-year-old sons.”

“He’d been down for a long time," said director Steven Spielberg. "He said people would stop him on the street and ask him if he’d ‘had work done’ because he always looked so buff and smooth. Or they’d call him ‘C3PO’ and asking him to say things in that voice. It pissed him off at first, but he started to internalize it. Even Oscar had his pride.”

Oscar awaits his entrance at the 83rd Academy Awards
show in 2011, Kodak Theatre, Hollywood [Getty Images]
Friends and associates from the Academy say that Oscar had been struggling with depression for the past few years and had been isolating himself.  “He used to be here three times a week,” said Maven, “Then he stopped. I haven’t seen him in ages. He was a good tipper, and always good for Hollywood stories and a round for the house on Tuesday afternoons. I heard he switched to the bar at Olive Garden because of all the posers who’ve been coming here. He couldn’t relate.”

“Dad was always so proud of his position in Hollywood,” his daughter Annie said in a phone interview.  “But he was frustrated that no one saw him for himself.  He used to love to say, ‘Always a bridesmaid,’ but we didn’t know how his lack of recognition as a person really affected him.”

Services are pending, though a memorial at The Ivy is being organized by close friends.


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