Lee Van Cleef was an American actor who played a villain in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. His piercing eyes and sharp features made him an ideal “bad guy.”
In 1966, he starred as the villainous Angel Eyes in the classic film – ”The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.”
He was born on January 9, 1925, in Somerville, New Jersey, USA.
His parents were both of Dutch ancestry. In addition, Lee had distant German, English, Belgian (Flemish), Swedish, and French roots.
Van Cleef obtained his high school diploma at age 17 early in his senior year at Somerville High School.
From 1942-46, he served in the US Navy (during World War II). There, he was assigned to a submarine chaser and then to a minesweeper, USS Incredible.
After World War II, Lee worked as an office administrator, becoming involved in amateur theatrics in his spare time.
In 1952, he got his first role in the Western classic – “High Noon,” as the bad guy who died in the showdown gunfight with American actor Gary Cooper.
The plot of the film centers on a town marshal who is torn between his love for his new bride and his sense of duty as he must face a gang of killers alone.
It earned an estimated $3.4 million at the US box office in 1952.
High Noon was directed by Fred Zinnemann and produced by Stanley Kramer. John Wayne was originally offered the lead role in the High Noon.
Also in 1952, he appeared in Kansas City Confidential, a crime film directed by Phil Karlson. In the same year, Van Cleef appeared in the episode “Formula for Fear” of the Western aviation series Sky King.
In the follow-up year, Lee performed in Vice Squad, a film directed by Arnold Laven.
In 1955, Van Cleef appeared in Brave Eagle, a western television series which aired on CBS. Later that year, he appeared in Annie Oakley, a TV series which fictionalized the life of the sharpshooter, Annie Oakley.
In 1959, he appeared as Luke Clagg in the episode “Strange Request” of the series Riverboat.
In 1960, he appeared in the Bonanza (an American western TV series which ran from 1959 to 1973) episode, “The Bloodline.”
In 1963, Van Cleef starred in “The Day of the Misfits” on American western television series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
In 1966, he starred in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a Western film directed by Sergio Leone. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the last film in the Dollars Trilogy.
Upon release, the film received criticism for its depiction of violence. The film was a financial success, grossing more than $25 million at the box office.
It is an Italian-led production with co-producers in the United States, West Germany, and Spain.
Ennio Morricone composed the film’s score including its main theme. Tonino Delli Colli was responsible for the film’s sweeping widescreen cinematography.
Other stars from ”The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” are:
- Eli Wallach;
- Clint Eastwood.
It was released on VHS by VidAmerica in 1980.
In 1981, Lee appeared in the cult classic film Escape From New York.
In 1984, Van Cleef was cast as a ninja master in the NBC adventure series The Master.
On December 10, 1943, Lee married Patsy Ruth Kahle. They divorced in 1960.
On April 9, 1960, Van Cleef married Joan Marjorie Drane. The couple divorced in 1974.
On July 13, 1976, Lee Van Cleef married Barbara Havelone. The couple was married until his death.
From his marriage to Patsy Ruth Kahle, Lee had three children:
With his 2nd wife Joan Marjorie Drane, he had adopted a daughter, named – Denise.
Death & Cause Of Death
He passed away in Oxnard, California on December 16, 1989. He was 64. The cause of his death was a heart attack. His death certificate gave throat cancer as a secondary cause of death.
Van Cleef was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, with the following inscription on his grave marker:
“BEST OF THE BAD.”
Lee was 6′ 2″ (1.88 m) tall.
”I don’t care where I work. Films are an international business – not an American institution.”
”Audiences just naturally hate me on screen. I could play a role in a tuxedo, and people would think I was rotten.”
”My story suddenly turned into a rags-to-riches saga. And just in time, too.”
”Being born with a pair of beady eyes was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
”Movies are full of leading men, most of whom aren’t working. It’s much harder to find a good villain.”
He starred in two films nominated for Best Picture Oscar:
- How the West Was Won (1962);
- High Noon (1952).
In 1959, Van Cleef was involved in a car accident in which he lost his left kneecap.
He was portrayed as a bounty hunter in the Lucky Luke comic book “The Bounty Hunter.”
While building a playhouse for his daughter, Lee lost the tip of the middle finger on his right hand.
When performing in westerns, his characters often use customized firearms, such as pistols and rifles with increased ammo magazine, fire rate, precision, and additional muzzles.
Lee had been qualified for – the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and the Bronze Star.
Lee Van Cleef – Net Worth
Van Cleef earned most of his wealth for performing in 173 films over a 38-year span. He was usually cast as a villain.
Some of the movies he starred in are: “Thief of Fortune” in 1989, “Jungle Raiders” in 1985, “The Octagon” in 1980, “The Rip-Off” in 1978, “Escape from Death Row” in 1975, “Bad Man’s River” in 1972, “Commandos” in 1968, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in 1966, “Bonanza” in 1960, “Gunfight in the OK Corral” in 1957, “The Vanishing American” in 1955, “Dawn to Socorro” in 1954, “Vice-Squad” in 1953, and “High Noon” in 1952.
For appearing in Per qualche dollaro in più (1965), Lee received $17,000 (about $137,000 in the present day). Therefore, at the time of his death, Lee Van Cleef had an estimated net worth of about $2.6 million (in accordance with the current inflation).