1957's Love in the Afternoon, which co-starred Cooper with the young Audrey Hepburn, was less well-received, as was the extremely grim Man of the West.

1959 brought the best of Cooper's final films, The Hanging Tree. Cooper played a frontier doctor who treats a young woman (Maria Schell) suffering from exposure, then is reluctantly drawn into her life. In strong support were a lecherous Karl Malden, and Bible-spouting zealot George C. Scott in one of his earliest films.

Cooper did not forsee The Naked Edge, filmed in London in 1960, as his final film. He had his eye on The Sundowners - a role that eventually went to Robert Mitchum - and on Ride the High Country, which was later made with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott.

But poor health was slowing him down, and in the spring of 1960 he was diagnosed with cancer. Concurrent with his wishes, the terminal status of Coop's illness was kept away from the media, until the Academy Award ceremony in April of 1961. In accepting an honorary Oscar for his friend, James Stewart was close to tears - tipping the world to the fact that Gary Cooper was dying.

Cooper's last days were spent quietly in his home.
Six days after his 60th birthday he went into a coma, and died the following afternoon, May 14th, 1961.




He left a legacy that can be savored as long as films survive - Gary Cooper...truly the last great American hero.






Sources: personal collection;
"The Last Hero - A Biography of Gary Cooper"
© 1980 Larry Swindell,
Doubleday & Co., Inc.


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