It is hard to believe that larger-than-life actor John Wayne been gone for so many years, dying of cancer in June 1979. His persona in popular culture lives on: the honest, direct, loyal man of action and strong convictions. A hero.
Marion Robert Morrison, born in Winterset, Iowa, got the nickname "Duke" as a child after his Airedale dog. He played football for USC before screen-testing in Hollywood.
His breakthrough role of the Ringo Kid in 1939's Stagecoach catapulted his stellar career which included 153 films--The Drop Kick (1927) to The Shootist (with Lauren Bacall, 1976)--most stamped with that famous heroic John Wayne spirit.
A man's man of true grit, he loved to eat steak and enjoyed drinking. He was too big to drive a car comfortably, so he drove trucks. He loved his family, his friends, and his country.
"Few other men living or dead," said actor Jimmy Stewart, "have ever portrayed the fine, decent, and generous American qualities as Duke did."
A few months before he died, co-star and friend Maureen O'Hara appeared before the U.S. Congress and requested a special medal of honor for him. "John Wayne is not just an actor," she said passionately, "John Wayne is the United States of America... It is every person's dream that the United States will be like John Wayne and always like him."
Of course, Congress approved the request in a perfect promise for tomorrow. The gold coin, struck by the U.S. Mint, reads simply, "John Wayne, American."
Tomorrow is a living promise of good, clean things.