Sterling Hayden (March 26, 1916 - May 23, 1986) was an American actor. For most of his career as a leading man, he specialized in westerns and film noir. He is most noted for his appearance as Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964). He also played the Irish policeman, Captain McCluskey, who was gunned down by Al Pacino, in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather in 1972.
Born in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, Hayden's parents were George and Frances Walter, who named him Sterling Relyea Walter. After his father died, he was adopted at the age of nine by James Hayden and renamed Sterling Walter Hayden. As a child, he lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Maine, where he attended Wassookeag School in Dexter, Maine.
Hayden was a genuine adventurer and man of action, not dissimilar from many of his movie parts. He ran away to sea at 17, as a ship's boy, then later was a fisherman on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. After serving as sailor and fireman on larger vessels, he was awarded his first command at 19, and sailed around the world several times.
Hayden became a print model and later signed a contract with Paramount Studios, who dubbed the 6' 5" (1.96 m) actor The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies and The Beautiful Blond Viking God. His first film role starred Madeleine Carroll, with whom he fell in love and married. But after just two film roles, he left Hollywood to serve as an undercover agent with William J. Donovan's COI office. He remained there after it became the OSS. Hayden also joined the Marines under the name John Hamilton. His World War II service included running guns through German lines to the Yugoslav partisans and parachuting into fascist Croatia. He won the Silver Star and a commendation from Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito.
His admiration for the Communist partisans led to a brief involvement with the Communist Party. According to his IMDB biography, "As Red Scare deepens in U.S., he cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee, confessing his brief Communist ties and "naming names". Forever after he seemed to hold himself in great contempt for this 'ratting'". But his wife at that time, Betty Denoon, insists that the 'names' her ex-husband provided had already been named by others.
Sterling Hayden professed distaste for film acting, claiming he did it mainly to pay for his sailing vessels. In 1959, after a very bitter divorce he was awarded custody of his children. He defied a court order and sailed to Tahiti with all four children, Christian, Dana, Gretchen and Matthew.
Hayden wrote two well-received books: his autobiography Wanderer in 1963 and an historical novel,Voyage: A Novel of 1896 in 1976. In 1986, Sterling Hayden died of cancer in Sausalito, California.