Marion Mitchell Morrison (born Marion Robert Morrison; May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979), better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director, and producer. An Academy Award-winner, Wayne was among the top box office draws for three decades. An enduring American icon, and worldwide cultural figure, he epitomized rugged masculinity and is famous for his demeanor, including his distinctive calm voice, walk, and height.
Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, but his family relocated to the greater Los Angeles area when he was nine years old. He graduated from Glendale High School (Glendale, California). He found work at local film studios when he lost his football scholarship to USC as a result of a bodysurfing accident. Initially working for the Fox Film Corporation, he mostly appeared in small bit parts. His first leading role came in Raoul Walsh's lavish widescreen epic The Big Trail (1930), which led to leading roles in numerous B movies throughout the 1930s, many of them in the western genre.
His career rebounded in 1939, with John Ford's Stagecoach making him an instant mainstream star. Wayne would go on to star in 142 pictures. Biographer Ronald Davis says: "John Wayne personified for millions the nation's frontier heritage. Eighty-three of his movies were Westerns, and in them he played cowboys, cavalrymen, and unconquerable loners extracted from the Republic's central creation myth."
Among his better-known later films are The Quiet Man (1952), in which he is an Irish-American in love with a fiery spinster played by Maureen O'Hara;
The Searchers (1956), in which he plays a Civil War veteran whose young niece (Natalie Wood) is abducted by a tribe of Comanches in an Indian raid;
Rio Bravo (1959), playing a sheriff with Dean Martin;
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), portraying a troubled rancher competing with Eastern lawyer (James Stewart) for a woman's hand in marriage;
True Grit (1969), as an U.S. Marshal who sets out to avenge a man's death in the role that won Wayne his Academy Award; and
The Shootist (1976), his final screen performance, in which he plays an aging gunfighter battling cancer.
Although he enrolled in a cancer vaccine study in an attempt to ward off the disease, Wayne died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center, and was interred in the Pacific View Memorial Park cemetery in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach. According to his son Patrick and his grandson Matthew Muñoz, a priest in the California Diocese of Orange, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before his death.
He requested that his tombstone read "Feo, Fuerte y Formal," a Spanish epitaph Wayne described as meaning "ugly, strong, and dignified." The grave, which went unmarked for 20 years, is now marked with a quotation from his controversial 1971 Playboy interview: "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."
Among the cast and crew who filmed the 1956 film The Conqueror on location near St. George, Utah, 91 developed some form of cancer at various times, including stars Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. The film was shot in southwestern Utah, east of and generally downwind from the site of recent U.S. Government nuclear weapons tests in southeastern Nevada. Many contend that radioactive fallout from these tests contaminated the film location and poisoned the film crew working there. Despite the suggestion that Wayne's 1964 lung cancer and his 1979 stomach cancer resulted from nuclear contamination, he believed his lung cancer to have been a result of his six-packs-a-day cigarette habit.