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Raymond William Stacy Burr (May 21, 1917 – September 12, 1993) was a Canadian-American actor, primarily known for his title roles in the television dramas Perry Mason and Ironside. He was prominently involved in multiple charitable endeavors, such as working on behalf of the United Service Organizations.
Burr's early acting career included roles on Broadway, radio, television and in film, usually as the villain. His portrayal of the suspected murderer in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window (1954) is regarded as his best-known film role. He won two Emmy Awards, in 1959 and 1961, for the role of Perry Mason, which he played for nine seasons (1957–1966) and reprised in a series of 26 television films (1985–1993). His second TV series, Ironside, earned him six Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations.
After Burr's death from cancer in 1993, his personal life came into question, as many details of his known biography appeared to be unverifiable.
In 1996, Burr was ranked as #44 of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time by TV Guide.
Burr married actress Isabella Ward (1919–2004) on January 10, 1948. They met in 1943 while Ward was a student at the Pasadena Playhouse, where Burr was teaching. They met again in 1947, when Ward was in California with a short-lived theatre company. They were married shortly before Burr began work on the 1948 film noir, Pitfall.:75–76 In May 1948 they appeared on stage together, in a Pasadena Playhouse production based on the life of Paul Gauguin.:30–31 The couple lived in a basement apartment in a large house in Hollywood that Burr shared with his mother and grandparents. The marriage ended within months, and Ward returned to her native Delaware.:77 They divorced in 1952, and neither remarried.:26–30
In the mid-1950s, Burr met Robert Benevides (born February 9, 1930, Visalia, California) a young actor and Korean War veteran, on the set of Perry Mason. According to Benevides, they became a couple around 1960. Benevides gave up acting in 1963,:102–103, 120 and later became a production consultant for 21 of the Perry Mason TV movies. Together they owned and operated an orchid business and then a vineyard, in California's Dry Creek Valley. They were partners until Burr's death in 1993. Burr bequeathed to Benevides his entire estate, including "all my jewelry, clothing, books, works of art … and other items of a personal nature.":216–217 Benevides subsequently renamed the Dry Creek property Raymond Burr Vineyards (reportedly against Burr's wishes) and managed it as a commercial enterprise. In 2017, the property was sold.
During the filming of his last Perry Mason movie in the spring of 1993, Raymond Burr fell ill. A Viacom spokesperson told the media that the illness might be related to the renal cell carcinoma (malignant kidney tumor) that Burr had removed that February. It was determined that the cancer had spread to his liver and was at that point inoperable. Burr threw several "goodbye parties" before his death on September 12, 1993, at his Sonoma County ranch near Healdsburg. He was 76 years old.
The day after Burr's death, American Bar Association president R. William Ide III released a statement: "Raymond Burr's portrayals of Perry Mason represented lawyers in a professional and dignified manner. … Mr. Burr strove for such authenticity in his courtroom characterizations that we regard his passing as though we lost one of our own." The New York Times reported that Perry Mason had been named second — after F. Lee Bailey, and before Abraham Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall, Janet Reno, Ben Matlock and Hillary Clinton — in a recent National Law Journal poll that asked Americans to name the attorney, fictional or not, they most admired.
Burr was interred with his parents at Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, British Columbia. On October 1, 1993, about 600 family members and friends paid tribute to Burr at a private memorial service at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Although Burr had not revealed his homosexuality during his lifetime, it was an open secret:119 and was reported in the press upon his death. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that People magazine was preparing a story on Burr's "secret life" and asked, "Are the inevitable rumors true?" It received sensational treatment in the tabloid press; biographer Michael Starr wrote of the "wild stories about Raymond's private life spiced up with quotes from unidentified 'friends' who described his closeted homosexual lifestyle in almost cartoonish terms.":216
Burr bequeathed his estate to Robert Benevides, and excluded all relatives, including a sister, nieces, and nephews. His will was challenged, without success, by the two children of his late brother, James E. Burr.:216–218 Benevides's attorney said that tabloid reports of an estate worth $32 million were an overestimate.
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