ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) â€” Steve Reeves, star of European-made action films of the 1950s and '60s whose Mr. Universe physique won him a signature role as the mythical strongman Hercules, has died. He was 74.
Reeves died Monday at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido of complications from lymphoma, a form of cancer, which had been diagnosed eight weeks ago, according to a friend, Troy Bertelsen.
A lifelong bodybuilder, Reeves won the Mr. America title in 1947, which he followed with Mr. World and Mr. Universe titles in 1948 and another Mr. Universe win in 1950.
His imposing 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame attracted the attention of filmmakers, who cast him in 18 films before he retired from acting in 1969.
In 1959, Reeves became one of the world's biggest box office draws based on the success of ``Hercules,'' his third movie.
``Hercules'' was filmed in Italy with an all-European cast, and distributed in the United States with an English soundtrack. It was followed by films such as ``Goliath and the Barbarians,'' ``Hercules Unchained,'' ``Last Days of Pompeii'' and ``Thief of Baghdad.''
Critics were rarely kind to the so-called ``sword and sandal'' epics, known for simple action plots, poorly dubbed dialogue and low-grade special effects.
By 1967, Reeves was said to be the highest-paid actor in Europe, but he retired two years later at the age of 43 after appearing in the Western ``A Long Ride From Hell.''
Reeves said he suffered pain for years from a dislocated shoulder, sustained when his chariot slammed into a tree during the filming of ``The Last Days of Pompeii.''
However, he continued following a rigid fitness regimen into his later years, championing drug-free bodybuilding through his Steve Reeves International Society Web site and writing a workout guide, ``Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way.''
Born in Glasgow, Mont., Reeves moved with his family to Oakland as a boy. He began lifting weights at age 16.
His wife, Aline, died of complications from a stroke in 1989.
On the Net: http://www.stevereeves.com