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Charles Bronson Stole David McCallum's Wife — Their Marriage Lasted 22 Years until Her Last Days

Oyin Balogun
Jan 21, 2022
03:00 P.M.
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Legendary American Actor Charles Bronson was married to Jill Ireland for 22 years. Still, the early stages of their relationship were steeped in controversy because they met while she was married to his co-star and friend, David McCallum. 

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Charles Bronson is considered an icon in the American movie industry. The actor reigned for over 50 years as a fan favorite. 

He is famously known for his appearance in iconic movies like "The Stone Killer," "Death Wish," and "Hard Times." The actor appeared in over 73 films and 27 television shows throughout his career.

David McCallum and wife Jill Ireland at Pinewood Studios 21st Anniversary Party, 30th September 1957 [left] Charles Bronson Actress Jill Ireland pose for a portrait in circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California [right] | Photo: Getty Images

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His life and work are also a perfect Hollywood representation filled with colorful moments, including a rag to riches story and a dramatic marriage. 

EARLY LIFE 

Charles Bronson was born Charles Buchinsky on November 3, 1921, in Pennsylvania. He was born to his father, Walter Buchinsky, a Lithuanian immigrant coal miner, and his mother, Mary Valinsk, born in Pennsylvania to Lithuanian parents.

He was the eleventh of 15 kids by his parents, who struggled to make ends meet. The youngster grew up poor, and the family's financial problems were compounded by his father's death when the actor was just ten years old. 

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Portrait of American actor Charles Bronson (born Charles Buchinsky, 1921 - 2003) as he poses on set, with a camera in his hands, circa 1958. | Photo: Getty Images

After high school, at 16, Bronson joined the coal mining business and was paid $1 for each ton of coal. 

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By 1943, he was recruited into the Army and appointed to the 760th Mess Squadron in Kingman, Arizona, driving a delivery truck during World War II. After the war, he worked sparingly as a bricklayer, a short-order cook, and an onion picker in New York. 

He left for Atlantic City, where he rented out beach chairs on the boardwalk. Here, he met some Philadelphia actors on vacation and convinced them to let him show off his scenery painting skills. 

Charles Bronson during a break from filming the movie "Villa Rides," near Madrid circa 1967 | Photo: Getty Images

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The actors were impressed with his skills and employed him to do a little acting. The youngster realized he enjoyed acting more than painting, so in 1949, he went to California and enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse. 

EARLY ACTING CAREER AND SUBSEQUENT FAME 

In 1951, Bronson bagged a minor role in the movie "You're in the Navy Now," alongside actor Gary Cooper. Bronson only landed the role because out of the auditioning actors; he was the only one who could belch on cue. 

During the 1950s, he changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson because of the anti-communist crusade. The actor felt it was unwise for a popular figure like himself to have a Russian-sounding name. 

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Charles Bronson (1921-2003), US actor, wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie, circa 1985. | Photo: Getty Images

Attempting to make a mark in Hollywood, Bronson continued to work in low-budget movies. In 1958 the actor starred in "Machine Gun Kelly," a film made in just eight days. 

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French actor Alain Delon saw the movie "Machine Gun Kelly" and was impressed by Bronson's performance. Hence, several years later, Delon invited Bronson to France and cast him in the movie "Adieu, l'Ami," which became a massive hit in Europe. 

By 1970, Bronson had become a popular figure in Crime and Western movies. Although most of the films he starred in were poorly written, movie critics praised his performances. 

Charles Bronson as he appears in the 1975 motion picture "Breakout." | Photo: Getty Images

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He appeared in the crime movie "The Valachi Papers" and the revenge Western "Chato's Land" in 1972. 

Bronson partnered with British director Michael Winner, and together they made several commercially successful movies, including "The Mechanic" in 1972 and "The Stone Killer" a year later. 

After 25 years in the movie industry, Bronson finally landed his most significant breakthrough role in the movie "Death Wish" in 1974, which was so popular it spawned four sequels over the following 20 years.

Charles Bronson in the 1973 film "Chino" | Photo: Getty Images

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The actor continued delighting fans with his tough-guy movie persona and, over the following years, appeared in countless hit movies, becoming a global icon and legend among film enthusiasts. 

MARRYING CO-STAR'S WIFE 

Charles Bronson and actor David McCallum were co-starring in the movie "Great Escape" when the former introduced his wife Jill Ireland to Bronson. 

Afterward, Bronson and Ireland became romantically involved even though she was still married to David McCallum. Speaking about the affair, McCallum admitted the realization was quite challenging to accept at the time, but it was eventually settled. 

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David McCallum and Jill Ireland, meeting at London Airport, April 3rd 1957 | Photo: Getty Images

McCallum also revealed he held no recollection of reports that after Bronson met Ireland, he told him he would marry his wife. Even though that eventually happened, the actor had no ill feelings towards Bronson. He said:

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"I never hated him, Charlie was always a good friend."

David McCallum has since moved on from the episode. He met and married model Katherine Carpenter after his divorce from Ireland. He and Carpenter have been married for over five decades and have welcomed two children together. 

Jill Ireland (1936-1990) and David McCallum together at an event in 1958 | Photo: Getty Images

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BRONSON'S MARRIAGE TO JILL IRELAND 

Charles Bronson married Jill Ireland, a British-born actress, in 1968, a year after she divorced her first husband, David McCallum. 

After their marriage, Ireland started co-starring alongside her husband in his movies, beginning with "Villa Rides." Due to her constant appearance, she said

"I'm in so many Charles Bronson films because no other actress will work with him."

Portrait of Jill Ireland in 1983 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

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The couple lived together in their BelAir mansion and were parents to seven children; two from Bronson's previous marriage, three kids from Ireland's marriage to McCallum, and two of their children. 

Their second child Katrina Holden was adopted in 1983 after her biological mother, Hilary, died. Sadly, a year later, Ireland was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

This inspired her to write two books about her battle with the disease. Her first book "Life Wish: A Personal Story of Survival" contained details about her mastectomy and recovery. 

Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland in November 1970 in Paris, France | Photo: Getty Images

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She dedicated her time to encouraging fellow cancer patients and families while raising money for cancer research. Ireland also applauded her husband, Bronson, for helping her endure radiation and chemotherapy treatments. 

In 1989, doctors told her that the cancer had reappeared and escalated to her lungs, hip, femur, and thyroid. She was given just three years to live.

Ireland also wrote her second book "Lifeline: My Fight To Save My Family " which details her son Jason McCallum's struggle with drugs before his accidental overdose. 

Jill Ireland and Jason McCallum during a 1979 Beverly Hills, California, cocktail party | Photo: Getty Images

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IRELAND'S DEATH 

The actress was writing her third book when she died at 11:30 am on May 18, 1990. Bronson, her mother Dorothy, a couple of her kids, and other family members were at her side when she died. 

Before her death, Ireland said she wanted a funeral with a real wake, with champagne and balloons. She also wanted people to be bright, be in happy colors, have lots of food and music, and celebrate her life. 

Charles Bronson & Jill Ireland at the 1st Annual Talent Awards Luncheon | Photo: Getty Images

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BRONSON'S LIFE AFTER IRELAND'S DEATH 

Charles Bronson married actress Kim Weeks after Ireland's death. Weeks is famously known for her performance in movies such as 1995's "Family Cops" and "Breach of Faith." Sadly, Bronson was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000. 

HIS DEATH 

On August 30, 2003, Charles Bronson died at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The cause of his death was pneumonia.

Charles Bronson as he appears in the 1975 motion picture Breakout. | Photo: Getty Images

He was survived by his wife, Kim Weeks, his three daughters, Suzanne, Katrina Holden-Bronson, and Zuleika, his son Tony, two stepsons, Paul and Valentine McCallum, and two grandchildren.

Branson also left behind an estate worth $48 million, including houses in Malibu, Vermont, Greece, and Lithuania. He was also posthumously awarded a special Golden Globe Award. 

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