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Creator / Yul Brynner

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"I really wanted to make a commercial, when I discovered that I was that sick, and my time was so limited. I wanted to make a commercial that says simply, 'Now that I am gone, I tell you: Don't smoke. Whatever you do, just don't smoke.' If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn't be talking about any cancer. I'm convinced of that."
— Excerpts from Brynner's appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on January 7, 1985, his final interview.

Yul Brynner (born Yuliy Borisovich Briner, Russian: Юлий Борисович Бринер, July 11, 1920 – October 10, 1985) was a Russian-born American actor.

He was born in Vladivostok, though after his father left the family, his mother took him to Manchuria and Paris before they moved to the USA in 1940. During World War II, Brynner used his French language skills to broadcast American propaganda to occupied France. He became an American citizen in the 1940s and began working as an actor and model.

Brynner's Star-Making Role was as King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I, which he first played in 1951 and would play 4633 times, not only on stage but also in the Live-Action Adaptation and a TV version. Brynner would end up winning both a Tony and an Oscar for this role. It was for this role that he shaved his head, and the bald head would become Yul Brynner's iconic look.

He also starred in 1956 as Pharaoh Ramses in The Ten Commandments. After attending a performance of The King and I, Cecil B. DeMille promptly went backstage and enlisted him for the part. As Charlton Heston was much taller than him, Brynner decided to bulk up for the role, and delivered an imposing performance as the Pharaoh. He would continue to star in epics through the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.

Brynner's last major role was as the Gunslinger robot (who at his request wore the same clothes as his character in The Magnificent Seven) in the 1973 film Westworld, and a cameo in its sequel Futureworld (1976). Sadly, his smoking habit caught up to him, and he died of lung cancer in 1985. While wrapping up his career, Brynner's final wish, as mentioned above, was to make a Public Service Announcement to be run after his death to tell others not to make that mistake; at the proper time, the American Cancer Society honored his wish.

Yul Brynner remains one of the most distinctive-looking (and sounding) Hollywood actors, and to this day his image is shorthand for badass. Among his influences is that he inspired the look of Professor X of the X-Men comics.

Roles (selected)

Tropes related to his work:

  • Bald of Authority: He shaved his head for The King and I and liking both the look and the roles it opened up for him, he kept it shaved afterwards, quickly becoming his trademark look.
  • Bald of Evil: Whenever he villainous roles, most notably Westworld (1973), his characters were this by default.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: He did not use the Exact Words "I'm dead, don't smoke" in his posthumously-aired anti-smoking PSA, though that was certainly the point he wanted to make.
  • Dead Man Writing: Brynner's final message, which in a sense was his final work, was delivered after his death via an American Cancer Society commercial.
  • Dyeing for Your Art:
    • He shaved his head for The King and I, and the look became iconic.
    • When he found out that he'd be costarring with Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments and that he would be shirtless for a majority of the film, he began a rigorous weightlifting program because he did not want to be physically overshadowed by Heston.
  • Fake Nationality: Brynner was of Swiss German and Russian descent with a small amount of Buryat (Mongolic) ancestry which gave him a lot of casting appeal to play numerous nationalities. His most notable roles included Siamese (Thai), Egyptian, American (including Native American and Cajun), Zaporhozian Cossack (Ukrainian) and Mexican. In fact, he only played his real nationality a few times (at least three).
  • Money, Dear Boy: According to The Man Who Would Be King, Brynner acted this way for much of his career. Due to a combination of factors (including unscrupulous film studios, his absence from the U.S. and an increasing reliance on maintaining his property), Yul was content to take any role as long as it offered a paycheck. He turned in roles in scores of schlocky films, and would always note to his son that because the studios and government felt compelled to try to screw him over at every opportunity, he could do the same thing to make money on projects that were beneath his star power.
  • Plays Great Ethnics: As he was believed in life to be of ambiguous ethnicity,note  Brynner played Thai, Egyptian, Russian, Zaporhozian Cossack, Native American, Cajun, Maya, Mexican, and other "ethnic" roles.