A direct descendent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, raised by an Admiral and having served in the Army in Korea, it may seem surprising that, upon his discharge from the military, Duvall moved to New York to study acting.
Working in theatre in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he also appeared on TV, before making his film debut in 1962, as Boo Radley in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.
During his long film career, in which he has worked with some of Hollywood's greatest directors, including a long association with Francis Ford Coppola, Duvall has frequently played troubled, lonely characters.
He starred in and is known for his portrayal of Tom Hagen in Coppola's 'The Godfather' in 1972 and 'The Godfather Part II' in 1974, helping cement his Hollywood career as these are now cult classics.
Probably Duvall's most iconic moment was his performance as the crazed Colonel Kilgore, in Coppola's sprawling jungle epic, 'Apocalypse Now' (1979), in which the actor delivered probably the most famous line in the movie – "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!"
Duvall's several Oscar nominations include one for his performance of a brutish military father, who victimises his family, in 'The Great Santini' (1979). For his portrayal of a has-been country singer, in 'Tender Mercies' in 1983, he earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
One of Duvall's greatest personal triumphs was the production of 'The Apostle' (1997), the powerful tale of a fallen Southern preacher who finds redemption. Duvall wrote the script 15 years before and was unable to find a backer, so in the mid 1990s he financed the film himself. Directing and starring in the piece, Duvall earned considerable acclaim, including another Oscar-nomination for Best Actor.
Energised by the success of the feature, he appeared in 'The Gingerbread Man' in 1998 before taking on the role of Jerome Facher in 'A Civil Action', based on a book about a true story of environmental pollution in the US. He was nominated for an Oscar and won a Florida Film Critics Circle and Screen Actors Guild Award for his outstanding performance.
Over the next few years, Duvall went on to have varied roles in a number of movies, although many did not attract the critical nods he had garnered in the past. The films included science-fiction disaster movie 'Deep Impact' (1998), Jerry Bruckheimer's blockbuster 'Gone in 60 Seconds' (2000) and 'Assassination Tango' (2002), which he also wrote and directed.
In 2003, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2005, US president at the time George W Bush gave Duvall a National Medal of Arts at the White House.
After appearing in 2005 political satire 'Thank You for Smoking', which performed well at the box office, Duvall returned to award-winning form with 2006 western miniseries 'Broken Trail'. He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor and was nominated for a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award.
Further recognition came with 2009's 'The Road', a post-apocalyptic drama based on the Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. A Hollywood Award for Best Actor and several nominations, including for a Screen Actors Guild Award, also came Duvall's way after he starred in 'Get Low' in 2009.
Duvall followed this with a role in 'Crazy Heart' in the same year and 'Seven Days in Utopia' in 2011. He also appeared in the TV movie 'Hemingway and Gelhorn' (2012). Starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, it tells the story of poet Ernest Hemingway and his romance with journalist Martha Gelhorn.
In 2012, Duvall starred in 'Jayne's Mansfield Car' and 'Jack Reacher' based on the book in Lee Child's crime series.
Duvall has been married four times but has never fathered any children. He was married to Barbara Benjamin between 1964 and 1975.
He then wed actress Gail Youngs in 1982 but they divorced in 1986. On 1 May 1991, he married Sharon Brophy but this partnership also ended in divorce in 1996.
In 1997, he met Luciana Pedraza on a street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is the granddaughter of famous Argentine aviator Susanna Ferrari Billinghurst. The couple share the birthday of 5 January, although Luciana is 41 years younger than Duvall. They got married in 2005 and are still going strong.
They are both active supporters of the charity Pro Mujer, which helps the poorest women in Latin America gain access to healthcare and set up their own businesses.
He loves the smell of napalm in the morning - Apocalypse Now (Steelbook Edition)
In the tradition of such obsessively driven directors as Erich von Stroheim and Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola approached the production of Apocalypse Now as if it were his own epic mission into the heart of darkness. On location in the storm-ravaged Philippines, he quite literally went mad as the project threatened to devour him in a vortex of creative despair, but from this insanity came one of the greatest films ever made.
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