Introduction Gregory Peck — an American icon, actor, movie producer, and philanthropist — is best remembered for his portrayal of a stalwart, decent man who sought to protect the innocent and rectify injustices. Childhood and youth Gregory Peck was born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5, 1916, to Gregory Pearl Peck and Bernice May Ayres in La Jolla, California. His father was a pharmacist when Eldred was born. Eldred's parents divorced when he was young, and he left town with his mother. Not long thereafter, the boy went to live with his grandmother, Kate Ayres, who guided him through five grades at La Jolla Grammar School. At age 10, Eldred transferred to St. John's Military Academy in Los Angeles. He flourished in the military discipline and was a cadet captain his last year there. In 1930, at age 14, Eldred moved in with his father and entered San Diego High School. At the University of California at Berkeley, Gregory Peck studied pre-med. After catching the acting bug, Peck changed his focus. While studying there, Peck also was a houseboy for the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1939. Early career In 1939, Peck enrolled in the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of Dramatics in New York City. He debuted on Broadway in Emlyn Williams' stage play "The Morning Star" in 1942. In one short year, he was in Hollywood where he debuted in the RKO film Days of Glory in 1944. For medical reasons, Peck was exempted from military service during World War II. He began his Hollywood career under contract with four studios. Family life Peck was married twice. His first was to Greta Kukkonen, which produced three sons: Jonathan, Stephen, and Carey. The union ended in divorce in 1955. Peck's second marriage was to Veronique Passani, which lasted until his death. They had two children: Tony and Cecilia Peck. Even though he disagreed with the war in Vietnam, Peck supported his family members and was proud of Stephen's service in the Marine Corps. He had to face the suicide of his eldest son, Jonathan, from a gunshot wound in 1975. Later career and causes A busy actor, Gregory Peck starred in such memorable films as Mirage (1965), The Boys from Brazil (1978), and Old Gringo (1989). Also in the Eighties, Peck played Abraham Lincoln in the television miniseries, "The Blue and the Gray." In 1991, he appeared in the remake of his 1962 film, Moby Dick, but played a different role. In 1999, he began touring as a one-man stage show of reminiscences, captured in the documentary A Conversation with Gregory Peck.
Always politically liberal, Peck was active in causes dealing with charities, politics, and the film industry. A lifelong Democrat, Peck acquired a reputation as Hollywood's house liberal. At one time, he was the national chairman of the American Cancer Society. In the early Seventies, Peck produced while his film career waned. In the Eighties, he moved into television. Claiming he was worried about the 600,000 jobs hanging on the survival of the Chrysler Corporation, he volunteered to become an unpaid TV pitchman for the company in 1980. When his film career had wound down, and his philanthropic efforts in support of arts organizations flowered, Peck worked tirelessly as a founder of the American Film Institute, three-term president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and as a member of the National Council of Arts, which made him seem less of an actor than a politician. A cascade of honors During his long career, Gregory Peck earned several awards and held many offices. In 1967, Peck received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and also was the recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Lyndon Johnson. He was best known for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). After four nominations, Peck finally won the Oscar for his performance in that film as attorney Atticus Finch. Peck also received the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1969, the Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement in 1993, and the Golden Globe Award for best supporting actor for the made-for-television movie, "Moby Dick," in 1998. He was the recipient of the Screen Actor's Award, awarded by the Screen Actor's Guild, for his "outstanding achievement in fostering the finest ideals in the acting profession," and the recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. A peaceful end Gregory Peck died in his sleep from natural causes at the age of 87 in Los Angeles. His second wife, Veronique Passani, their two children, and two of his children from his first marriage survived him. Brock Peters, who starred with Peck in Mockingbird, delivered a eulogy at Peck's funeral on June 16, 2003.