Sad news today: Cliff Robertson, beloved star of Spider-Man and Charly, has passed away, one day after his 88th birthday. His secretary of 53 years, Evelyn Christel, reports that he died of natural causes.
Robertson won a richly deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of a mentally challenged young man who has a brief, meaningful bout of intelligence in Ralph Nelson's 1968 drama Charly, based on the short story and novel by Daniel Keyes. He of course made many other memorable performances in his 64-year film and television career, including the title role in the TV space opera Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, the Korean war veteran/beach bum "The Big Kahuna" in Gidget, the hapless ventriloquist in the Twilight Zone episode The Dummy, the gunslinger "Shame" in the 1960's Batman television series, the duplicitous CIA Deputy Director Higgins in Three Days of the Condor, Hugh Hefner in Star 80, Dr. Michael Ranson in TV's Falcon Crest, and the religious zealot President of the United States in John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.
Cliff Robertson achieved fame and respect for coming forward with information that Columbia Studios head David Begelman had been forging checks, including one with Robertson's name on it for $10,000. Begelman was sentenced to community service for the charge and Columbia Pictures wanted to keep the scandal quiet. Robertson spoke out against the incident anyway and was blacklisted in the industry for several years as a result.
But many young film fans know Robertson best as the man who portrayed Peter Parker's ill-fated, kind-hearted Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. His wise, heartfelt and ultimately pained delivery of his penultimate scene – in which he uttered the immortal words, "With great power comes great responsibility" – remains a pitch perfect portrayal of an iconic moment in comic book, movie, and yes, geek history.
Cliff Robertson was an incredibly talented actor and a beloved figure in the film and television industry. He will be dearly missed.