Another great from Hollywood's Golden Age gone - coincidentally, Peck's Atticus Finch character from To Kill a Mockingbird was just chosen as the greatest hero in film history by the American Film Institute.
- Peck, who won the best-actor Academy Award for playing the noble Atticus in 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird," died Thursday at his Los Angeles home, spokesman Monroe Friedman said.
....The actor had not been suffering from any particular ailments, Friedman said, but simply slipped off to sleep and died as his wife held his hand.
Late in his career, Peck played such blackhearts as Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in "The Boys From Brazil." But the role of the heavy never quite suited him.
Friedman said that over the years Peck told him he knew audiences recalled him most fondly for Atticus, the widowed Southern lawyer raising two children amid racial unrest as he defends an innocent black man against charges of raping a white woman.
Peck's career was defined by that film, said Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, "because he was the classic, quintessential American hero, a fellow who puts to hazard his whole future in order to do something he believes is right to do."
...."I put everything I had into it - all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children," Peck said in 1989. "And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity."
Peck's lanky, gaunt-cheeked good looks, measured speech and courtly demeanor quickly established him as star material when he broke into movies in the 1940s.
He made his film debut in 1944's "Days of Glory," a tale of Russian peasants coping with Nazi occupation. The next year, he played a priest in his second film, "Keys of the Kingdom," which brought him his first Oscar nomination.
Three more nominations soon followed: For 1946's "The Yearling," the family classic about a boy and his pet fawn; for 1947's best-picture winner "Gentleman's Agreement," in which Peck played a reporter posing as a Jew to expose anti-Semitism in America; and for 1949's "Twelve O'Clock High," with Peck as a World War II flight leader coming unglued under the pressures of command.
His "legacy not only lies in his films, but in the dignified, decent and moral way in which he worked and lived," said director Steven Spielberg. "He was the reigning father of the actor."
....A Roosevelt New Dealer, Peck campaigned for Harry Truman in 1948 "at a time when nobody thought he had a chance to win." He continued championing liberal causes, producing an anti-Vietnam War film in 1972, "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine," and helped with the successful campaign against the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987.