Clifford Parker “Cliff” Robertson III (September 9, 1923 – September 10, 2011) was an American actor with a film and television career that spanned half a century. Robertson portrayed a young John F. Kennedy in the 1963 film PT 109, and won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the movie Charly. On television, he portrayed retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the 1976 adaptation of Aldrin’s autobiographic Return to Earth, played a fictional character based on Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms in the 1977 miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors, and portrayed Henry Ford in the 1987 Ford: The Man and the Machine. His last well-known film appearances were in 2002 through 2007 as Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man film trilogy.
Robertson was born on September 9, 1923 in La Jolla, California, the son of Clifford Parker Robertson, Jr. (1902–1968), and his first wife, the former Audrey Olga Willingham (1903-1925). His Texas-born father was described as “the idle heir to a tidy sum of ranching money. Robertson recalled that his father “was a very romantic figure—tall, handsome. He married four or five times, and between marriages he’d pop in to see me. He was a great raconteur, and he was always surrounded by sycophants who let him pick up the tab. During the Depression, he tapped the trust for $500,000, and six months later he was back for more.” The actor’s parents divorced when he was one, and Robertson’s mother died of peritonitis a year later in El Paso, Texas at the age of 2 He was raised by his maternal grandmother, Mary Eleanor “Eleanora” Willingham (née Sawyer, 1875–1957), in California, and rarely saw his father. He graduated in 1941 from La Jolla High School where he was known as “The Walking Phoenix” He served in the United States Merchant Marine in World War 2 before attending Antioch College (Ohio) and dropping out to work as a journalist for a short time.
In 1957, Robertson married actress Cynthia Stone, the former wife of actor Jack Lemmon. They had a daughter, Stephanie, before divorcing in 1959; he also had a stepson by this marriage, Chris Lemmon. In 1966, he married actress and Post Cereals heiress Dina Merrill, the former wife of Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr.; they had a daughter, Heather (1969-2007), before divorcing in 1989. By this marriage, he also had stepchildren Stanley Hutton Rumbough, David Post Rumbough, and Nedenia (Nina) Colgate Rumbough.
On September 10, 2011, just one day after his 88th birthday, Robertson died of natural causes in Stony Brook, New York. His body was cremated, and a private funeral was held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton, Long Island.