Actor Cliff Robertson passed away on September 10 at the age of 88. It should be noted that he passed away one day after his 88th birthday, being born on September 9, 1923. Robertson is notable to Disney fans for three very different roles: Uncle Ben in Sam Rami’s ‘Spiderman‘ movies, Dr. Carver in Disney’s 1991 film ‘Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken,’ and Jerry Etherson, a ventriloquist in the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode ‘The Dummy.’ The ‘Twilight Zone’ appearance is special not because Disney had anything to do with Rod Serling at the time, but the fact that a figure of Willie, the episode’s dummy, can be seen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to one side of the elevator exit on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction.
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Born in Texas and raised in Southern California, Robertson began acting around 1950, starring as then Lt. John F. Kennedy in ‘PT109‘ (legend has it that JFK himself picked Robertson for the role), and moving on to win the Academy Award in 1968 for his portrayal of ‘Charley’ an adaptation of ‘Flowers for Algernon.’ Robertson acted for most of his life, enduring a scandal on the 1970’s involving his forged signature on a check for $10,000 for work he had not done. It was discovered that the check had been forged by then Columbia Pictures head David Begelman, and a Hollywood-rocking scandal ensued. Robertson was blacklisted in Hollywood for the remaining decade only returning to acting in 1983.
Playing rugged, American archetypes came easy for Robertson, whose own family life reads like a Hollywood film. A father who lived off of a Texas rancher’s trust fund and was married many times, a mother who died when Robertson was only one, and a grandmother who raised him as her own. Robertson acted on TV (‘Playhouse 90,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’ and ‘The Outer Limits’) as well as movies.
The most remarkable story about Robertson however involved his love of flying. Robertson, who had semi-retired to New York City, was flying his own Beechcraft Barron 7,500 feet over the World Trade Center when the first airplane struck the towers on September 11, 2001. He was ordered down and landed safely.