Growing up as a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles, Anthony Quinn dreamed of becoming an architect. At age 17, he won a drawing contest and studied with the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright. “He told Anthony he couldn’t become an architect because he had a speech impediment,” the actor’s widow, Kathy Benvin, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.

Anthony got surgery to correct the problem, then offered to work as a janitor at an acting school in exchange for speech lessons he needed. That led to a 65-year screen career that saw him win two Oscars — one for Viva Zapata! and the second for Lust for Life. “Despite humble beginnings, he was constantly powering forward,” his son Alex shared with Closer.

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His first break as an actor came in 1936 when director Cecil B. DeMille cast him as an Indian in the Western The Plainsman. “He pretended he didn’t speak English and got the part,” Kathy said. “After that he was offered a contract.” Anthony not only won the gig, he also won over DeMille’s daughter, Katherine. They wed in 1937 and had five children. Tragically, their firstborn, Christopher, drowned in a pool at age 2 in 1941. “It was extremely painful,” daughter Valentina, who was born in 1952, revealed to Closer. After Christopher’s death, Anthony would father a dozen more kids, and “he would still always say, ‘I have 13 children,’ which would include Christopher.”

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Anthony overcame racism and typecasting, refusing to play only one-dimensional roles as Mexicans and Indians. He portrayed French artist Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life, Arab tribe leader Auda AbuTayeh in Lawrence of Arabia and became synonymous with the title character in Zorba the Greek. “He identified with the passion for life that Zorba had,” said Alex. “He expressed it through his acting, painting and sculpting.”

Making art was therapeutic for Anthony. “Creativity allowed him to deal with emotional issues and challenges he had in his life with discrimination and losing his father [when he was 10, in an auto accident],” said Kathy. “The artwork he created was an outlet for his frustration and tenderness.” But Anthony’s greatest passion was for his family; after he and Katherine DeMille divorced in 1965, he was wed to costume designer Jolanda Addolori (mother of his sons Francesco, Danny and Lorenzo) from 1966 to 1997. That year, he wed Kathy, his former secretary and mother of his daughter Antonia and son Ryan. “He loved being a father — that’s why he had so many kids,” Valentina dished.

Anthony Quinn, second from left in back row, along with his family, wife Kathy Quinn, left, son Jeb, third from left, son Lorenzo, fourth from left and Lorenzo's wife, Giovanna, youngest son, Ryan and daughter Antonia pose for a portrait during a roast party for Anthony Quinn October 19, 2000 at the Palace Hotel in New York City.
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“He said he loved the way they yelled, ‘Papa, Papa!’ when he came home. He loved being loved,” she added. That he was. “When I had troubles, he was there and concerned and showed love, and for that I’m grateful,” said Valentina. “And when I got married, he and Kathy had just had their little boy a few days prior, and he was sweet enough to come to my wedding and walk me down the aisle.”

Anthony spent his final years in Rhode Island with Kathy and their kids. He died of pneumonia and throat cancer at 86 in 2001. “He was always surrounded by family,” said Kathy, who started The Anthony Quinn Foundation to help needy art students. “All he wanted was to be connected with kids, nature and family. He was the gentlest human being.”

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