March 23, 1998 12:00 PM

IN 1989, LLOYD BRIDGES TOLD THE CHICAGO Tribune that he had discovered “the best lesson I could teach my boys,” actors Beau and Jeff Bridges: “If you’re doing something you really love, you can do it forever.” Bridges nearly proved that lesson true. The actor, who died on March 10 at age 85, had rarely slowed down during the course of a 57-year film-and-TV career. Jim Abrahams, who directed Bridges in Hot Shots! Part Deux in 1993, recalls a scene where the actor “leaped off a balcony, hung onto a rope and swung down into a fireplace. That’s how he spent his 80th birthday.”

His fame began exactly 80 years earlier. In 1913, the year he was born in San Leandro, Calif., he won a trophy from President Taft for being America’s fattest baby. The actor, who gained acclaim in the 1952 film High Noon, became more famous playing underwater investigator Mike Nelson on the syndicated 1957-61 TV series Sea Hunt. The show typecast him as a stone-faced macho man, until another generation came to know him as a gruff dimwit in spoofs like Airplane! (’80) and Hot Shots! (’91). In the upcoming Jane Austen’s Mafia! he plays a bumbling godfather. He also guest-starred as a geriatric strongman on Seinfeld.

The only aspect of life Bridges seemed to cherish above his career was his family—especially his 59-year marriage to college sweetheart Dorothy. The couple and their three children—Beau, 56, Jeff, 48, and Cindy, a homemaker in her mid-40s—”were the quintessential Hollywood family who stayed together,” says friend Neal Konigsberg. Certainly his sons will continue to follow in his footsteps—a fact he recently acknowledged. “There are times when I look at them,” he told the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune in 1994, “and I feel myself when I was a young blade.”

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