Working at the coal mine as a kid, Charles Bronson was convinced he was ‘the lowliest of all forms of a man’

Hollywood stars are often surrounded by glamor, giving the impression that every celebrity is a born star.

However, this is undoubtedly not always the case, and Charles Bronson, a great Hollywood actor, was not one of them.Charles Dennis Buchinsky, Bronson’s birth name, had a terrible life overall and a particularly difficult childhood growing up in a coal mining community in Croyle Township, about 60 miles from Pittsburgh.

He grew up with another 14 siblings, ranking ninth out of a total of 15. Even though the cost of raising a single child is well known, consider the strain on a family who is extremely low income. For Bronson, this was precisely the situation.

The modest, company-built cabin where Bronson and the large family resided was only a few yards from the coal car tracks. They had to alternate taking turns sleeping because the house was too small to accommodate such a large family.

“There was no love in my house,” he said. “The only physical contact I had with my mother was when she took me between her knees to pull the lice out of my hair.”

Charles Bronson as he appeared in the 1975 motion picture "Breakout." | Source: Getty Images

The town as a whole was a fairly dreary and forlorn place, serving solely business officials who sought to facilitate the coal mining and maximize profits. However, it wasn’t just the Bronson family who had it rough.

There wasn’t much natural beauty, the water quality wasn’t great, and the future looked bleak. The fact that Bronson has portrayed his childhood as being lonely and unpleasant is not surprising.

Around the time Bronson was a teenager and his father passed away, things became more and more challenging. He was accustomed to bartering for pennies, but he suddenly had to drop out of school to help his family. Getting a job as a coal miner is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from this.

Charles Bronson posed in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

Even as an adult, Bronson was plagued by the memories of this time in his life. He would never forget the arduous labor or the overpowering coal odor that filled his nostrils. Bronson had the impression that he was inhaling black dust while living on his hands and knees.

He frequently remembered the numerous headaches and how hard and filthy his hands were when working as a miner. According to Bronson, he was born with a shovel in his mouth rather than a spoon.

Above the bodily effects, however, was a psychological effect that was much more severe: his time spent working as a coal miner left him with a severe inferiority complex.

Actor Charles Bronson and wife Kim Weeks arrive at The Carousel of Hope Ball benefiting The Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes October 28, 2000 at the Beverly Hills Hilton in Beverly Hills. | Source: Getty Images

“During my years as a miner, I was just a kid, but I was convinced that I was the lowliest of all forms of man,” he said. 

In reality, according to Bronson, all of the coal miners in his area shared the same complex; they believed that steelworkers and railroad workers were the ‘elite’ and that they were the lowest class of human beings.

“Very few people know what it is like to live down there underneath the surface of the world, in that total blackness.”  

American actor Charles Bronson and Italian actress Claudia Cardinale during the filming of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western ''Once Upon a Time in the West" Italy, April 1968. | Source: Getty Images

He was overjoyed when he was eventually enlisted into the army. Finally, he could leave behind his gloomy surroundings and count on being fed and clothed. This time in his life would finally pave the way for Bronson to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable figures.

Bronson returned to the United States after serving in World War II, started studying art, and then enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

Actor Charles Bronson poses backstage after presenting "Best Supporting Actress" award during the 46th Academy Awards at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

His skills and talents were almost immediately clear: one teacher noticed them early on and soon referred the young Bronson to director Henry Hathaway. This eventually resulted in him being cast in his very first film: the 1951 You’re in the Navy Now.

While he frequently went unnoticed for his early work, by 1954 his work in Vera Cruz and, four years later, as the lead in Machine-Gun Kelly, had won him praise from reviewers.

American actors Charles Bronson and David Carradine relaxing at the Cannes Film Festival, 1977. | Source: Getty Images

Early on, Bronson worked as a painter, cook, mason, and onion-picker in addition to his acting gigs. In the 1950s, he also legally changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson out of concern that his Russian-sounding name wouldn’t be well-received during the time when communism was strongly opposed.

But it wasn’t until 1974 that he got his big break, as Paul Kersey in Death Wish, a vigilante architect whose wife and daughter are attacked. Due to the film’s success, multiple sequels were made throughout the ensuing decades.

Following his performance as the renowned drifter James Coburn in Hard Times, Bronson continued to rise to fame.

Actor Charles Bronson listens to his wife, actress Jill Ireland play the guitar in London, 9th January 1969. | Source: Getty Images

It took him some time to get used to being a celebrity, and Bronson is reported to have been tormented by his gloomy upbringing. 

He specifically avoided those who were invasive or made him feel threatened, according to co-star Andrew Stevens. On the other side, Bronson was known to be open, endearing, and humorous when he was relaxed and at ease.

Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland in 1979 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

With his first wife, Harriet Tendler, whom he was married to from 1949 to 1965, Bronson had two children.

Popular British actress Jill Ireland, who appeared with Bronson in a total of 15 movies, including The Valachi Papers and Love and Bullets, was his second marriage.Ireland unfortunately lost her battle with cancer in 1990, leaving behind two children.

With Kim Weeks, a previous worker of an audiobook company who had assisted in the recording of Ireland’s audiobooks, Bronson married for the third time in December 1998.

Actor Charles Bronson in a still from the film 'The Stone Killer', 1973. | Source: Getty Images

Later in life, Bronson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His battle with the illness was described as a “stark contrast to the high-octane vitality of his incredible life.”

The celebrity was occasionally seen staggering and confused about Beverly Hills. Fortunately, actor Weeks’s wife Weeks was there to take care of him.

“The family has known for almost a year that something was wrong because Charles just hasn’t been himself,” his sister, Catherine Pidgeon, said.

Actor Charles Bronson poses for a portrait in circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Bronson, according to Pidgeon, had started to slur his words and spoke more slowly, but he could still identify his family and was able to spend Christmas 2001 with them.

After contracting pneumonia, Bronson’s health rapidly deteriorated over the course of just a few weeks. At Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, he passed away on August 30, 2003, at the age of 81. His wife Kim, three daughters, Suzanne, Katrina Holden-Bronson, and Zuleika, a son, two stepsons, Paul and Valentine McCallum, and two grandchildren all survive him.

What a life-long trip Charles Bronson had to take! Every child should have a secure, joyful childhood filled with lifelong experiences.

I’m so grateful that Bronson was able to leave his troubled background behind and carve out a successful career for himself, one that is still vivid in so many people’s minds today. If you’re a fan of Charles Bronson, please share!