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The man who shot John Wayne: a contender for Hollywood's top prize

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It is always nice to see a veteran actor take home the Oscar following a big comeback. It celebrates an entire career. Martin Landau and James Coburn are among the latest ones of those greats to win the top prize in the Supporting Actor category in 1995 and 1999, respectively. That’s what makes this year’s Oscars special. Bruce Dern got a lead actor nod for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (Paramount Vantage, 2013), in which he portrays a cantankerous old man who takes a road trip with his son to claim money for a winning lottery ticket. The quintessential character actor, Dern’s career spans more than 50 years and encompasses work with the great Alfred Hitchcock, Mark Rydell, John Frankenheimer and Hal Ashby. With such an impressive body of work, it becomes obvious that he is more than deserving of Hollywood’s top accolade. Nominated once before for 1978’s Coming Home (United Artists, 1978), Dern never found stardom but maintained instead somewhat of a cult-villain status in Hollywood. Bruce Dern is undeniably this award season’s top sentimental choice since Robert Redford did not make the cut for All Is Lost (Lionsgate, 2013) in the Oscar race.

Besides being the star of Hitchcock’s last venture, Family Plot (Universal, 1976), Dern will always be remembered by trivia fans as the man who shot John Wayne in the back in The Cowboys (Warner Bros., 1972). He still believes that killing “Duke” almost ruined his career and recalls, "It was 8:30am when we did the scene, Wayne was incredibly s**tfaced (drunk) on Wild Turkey, a bottle and a half. I could smell it on him, and he leans into me and says, 'Oh, how they're gonna hate you for this'." For years strangers would approach him in the street and say, "You killed my buddy!”.

The grandson of a governor of Utah, Dern took chances by stepping out of his affluent background to undertake an acting career. Judging by the buzz his performance in Nebraska is currently earning him, it’s safe to say he made the right decision. Fresh from a Best Actor win at France's Cannes Film Festival last year, Dern is now one of the front runners for this year’s Oscar race, facing fierce competition from Matthew McConaughey who took home both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features, 2013). The veteran actor’s nomination is, whatever happens on March 2nd, the glorification of a remarkable career.

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