Love Story That Won't Have a Happy Ending
Daily Express 19th December 1989
It is a tale about courage, charm, tremendous strength and resilience but more than anything it’s a love story.
Charles Bronson's .resume is short on romantic leading men roles. But away from the screen that's made him a hero to millions he's that and much, much more.
It is difficult to imagine his 53-year-old British wife Jill Ireland fighting for her life, without him by her side. Every waking and sleeping moment.
She calls him Charlie or if he's in one of his more persistent, stoic moods just plain Bronson.
Her cancer — her life wasting away — is there, he will tell ' you quietly, at the start„ of every day. And in the night when he pours chilled bottled water for his wife or wipes her brow and puts an arm around her as that restless sleep arrives again. There are no nightmares. What could scare him now? Some men run away from illness. Women too, but not so often.
Psychiatrists could produce volumes about it but it's really a combination of fear and frustration — of being in a corner.
BRONSON reluctantly explained: "When you love someone you feel their pain. It's why some husbands go through morning sickness when their wives are pregnant. But to talk about it is very difficult. I wouldn't tell Jill how I was feeling.
"I behaved in such a way which was opposite to how I felt. I didn't want to bring her down. It was like keeping a stiff upper lip."
The couple showed their bravery recently when they appeared at a New York party in honour of 'Dr Jerome Urban, a pioneer in the treatment of 'breast cancer. ; Just three months ago, Ireland was told that her five-year battle against cancer had not been won and it had spread to her hip and leg.
But she is still keeping a brave public face having written two best-sellers — Life Wish and Life Lines
— and working on a third. She talks in shopping
malls and at society parties about herself as the woman with everything
— including cancer. She will chatter on about every detail. He can hardly talk to himself about it.
HE'S there for her, always as solid as that granite look on his face.
Five years ago a mastectomy and chemotherapy combined with an almighty stubborness and Ireland's will to live, seemed to have beaten the disease.
This time doctors have given her two to three more years — on condition she keeps going with radical treatment.
And there is major chemotherapy and tests and tests and tests. Recently the treatment has been even more intense — as has the stress brought on by the drug overdose 'death of their adopted son Jason McCallum last month.
She found the strength to be at his graveside but it was an effort. The hair has gone and she is weak and tired. There is more pain than hope but she'll never see it that way.
Ireland said she views everything differently now. Life, or rather the threat of losing it, can do that. • One thing that has not changed is Bronson. "In the beginning I wished he had been a little more outgoing with his feelings but I came to realise you can't change people," she said.
But Bronson said: "What kind of man would I be if I was not there to help her? I feel along with her — not her physical pain, of course, but all her mental anguish.
"You can't be detached. She needs to have someone who understands what's happening in her mind. And that's what I'm here for."
Their marriage has been as durable as his classic war film The Great Escape. Bronson ana1 Ireland's first husband, David McCallum, both starred in the POW movie.
Bronson had been married for 16 years to Harriet Tendler; McCallum and Ireland had been together for five. The British couple had two sons and adopted Jason after she miscarried while making a film in Germany in 1962.
Bronson had a son and daughter. Other mates, other children. But Ireland and Bronson connected as though moonstruck.
Ireland said: "At the time I was convinced that nothing would come of the warm friendship which sprang up so spontaneously between us. But we discovered that we had the same dilemma — we were both married to partners from whom we were drifting apart.
. "And as confused as I was, I knew one thing for sure — I must, at all cost, maintain contact with Charles Bronson."
THEY were married on October 5, 1968 and had custody of five children — his two, her three.
Their own daughter Zuleika was born 17 years ago. After the death of one of Ireland's close friends eight years ago they adopted Katrina Holden who is now 22.
Ireland recently spoke about her daily routine: "I spend seven hours a day in the hospital going from one little treatment room to another.
"Sometimes I'm zonked out on morphine and sitting in a wheelchair and other times I'm walking around with Charlie beside me wheeling this crane with 71b of chemotherapy liquids hanging on it. It's very rough."
In Bronson you can see all the concern and the hurt and the torture he is enduring alone because of the dictates of his personality.
He'd have to be a much greater actor than he is to 'hide all that.
And when he does talk briefly, he always harks back to the overwhelming frustration of not really being able to help the woman he's loved since he saw her on that 1962 foreign film set.
Jill Ireland told me she understands her husband's fears and anger: "I always think it is a terrible blow to a man when his wife is ill.
"When you think back, the man is raised by a woman and — I'm sure every man will hate me for saying so — a man's woman is often their security, their orderliness.
"Cancer is a great leveller. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you've got when you are sitting on a cold steel table in a little paper gown that doesn't cover you properly. And you are waiting for the verdict."
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