Birds and Inglourious Basterds actor Rod Taylor dies aged 84

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Australian actor Rod Taylor, famous for his role in Alfred Hitchcock's iconic 1963 horror movie The Birds, has died in Los Angeles aged 84, industry media said on Thursday.

Taylor, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday, according to Variety, was also known for performances in The Time Machine (1960) and The Train Robbers (1973). More recently, Taylor played Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009.

His Birds co-star Tippi Hedren told People magazine: "Rod was a great pal to me and a real strength. We were very, very good friends."

"He was one of the most fun people I have ever met, thoughtful and classy, there was everything good in that man," the 84-year-old added in a statement cited by the weekly.

He died at home surrounded by his family, People said.

Taylor won a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2010 for Inglourious Basterds, whose cast won the prize for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.

Born in Sydney, Taylor made a variety of film and television appearances in the 1950s. But his big break in Hollywood came with his starring role in director George Pal's The Time Machine. He went on to make dozens of films, including lending his voice to Disney's animated 101 Dalmatians (1961). He appeared with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The V.I.P.s, which was released the same year as The Birds, in which he portrayed Hedren's love interest Mitch Brenner.

Rod Taylor also played opposite Jane Fonda in Sunday In New York (1963) and John Wayne in The Train Robbers. Taylor had retired from acting when Tarantino offered him the Inglourious Basterds role, which he initially declined, suggesting Tarantino cast Albert Finney instead. He had long voiced reluctance at playing the kind of roles which earned him the biggest fame. "Pretending to still be the tough man of action isn't dignified for me anymore," he said in a 1987 interview. "There comes a time when you're over the hill and there are plenty of great looking younger actors who can take your place," he said.

His daughter Felicia, a former CNN news correspondent, said in a statement: "My dad loved his work. Being an actor was his passion, calling it an honorable art and something we couldn't live without.

"He once said: 'I am a poor student sitting at the feet of giants, yearning for their wisdom and begging for lessons that might one day make me a complete artist,'" she added, cited by People.

The actor is survived by his third wife Carol Kikumura, whom he married in 1980, and by his daughter.

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