November 19, 2002 01:55 PM

Screen star James Coburn, 74, who exhibited a cool elan even in his toughest guy roles, died of a sudden heart attack at his Beverly Hills home Monday while listening to music with his wife, said his manager, Hillard Elkins.

Coburn, best known for his ’60s starring roles in the western “The Magnificent Seven” and in the American James Bond spin-off “Our Man Flint” and “In Like Flint,” won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for the 1998 film “Affliction,” in which he played an abusive father.

“I’ve been working and doing this work for, like, over half my life and I finally got one right I guess,” he said in his acceptance speech.

The win was particularly sweet: It came after his having all but retired for the previous 10 years while he struggled to overcome arthritis that rendered his left hand crippled.

Despite the setback, Coburn, a native of Nebraska who cut his professional teeth playing in live dramas on ’50s TV, was most recently seen in the movie “The Man From Elysian Fields” and had already finished the still-to-be-released “American Gun,” Elkins told the Associated Press Monday night.

“And I have five or six scripts I’ve got to get out of my office because he can’t shoot them now,” said Elkins, his voice breaking.

Despite his carefree demeanor — Coburn was known as a good-humored actor who rarely complained — Elkins described the star as “a guy who looked like he was casual, but he studied and he worked and he understood character.

“He was a hell of an actor, he had a great sense of humor and those performances will be remembered for a very long time.”

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