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Adventurer, freedom fighter, liberator, film maker, jazz musician - no one could accuse Charles Fawcett of not living life to the full.
His story spans the globe, taking in major wars, breathtaking feats of daring, risky rescue missions and more than a hint of celebrity and spice.
You probably won't recognise his name - although Charles was a hero, he was modest with it. Yet most novelists would be hard-pressed to dream up a plot as extraordinary as the life of this incredible man, who has died aged 92. His funeral took place in London this week.
"What he wanted more than anything was to help humanity," says his widow, April Ducksbury, who lives in Chelsea, London.
"He would rescue anybody - it didn't matter who they were. People felt safe with Charles because they knew he really wanted to help them."
If you've seen the film Charlie Wilson's War, you'll remember Julia Roberts' character Joanne Herring talking about a friend's documentary footage of the Afghan war.
That friend was Charles Fawcett - whose film helped persuade America to provide the mujahedeen with arms to fight the invading Soviets - and it was narrated by his pal, Orson Welles.
"He thought he was a Jack of all trades and master of none," recalls his film-maker friend Pierre Sauvage. "It wasn't true at all - Charles had many talents. He believed everything was in our reach, nothing seemed to intimidate him."
Born on December 2, 1915, in Waleska, Georgia, Charles was orphaned at six. He, his brother and two sisters were raised by aunts in South Carolina. At Greenville High School, he learned to wrestle and play American football.
In his teens he ran away to Washington DC and, at 15, he claimed to have begun an affair with his best friend's mum, declaring: "If that's child molestation I would wish this curse on every young boy."
His wanderlust kicked in early and he set off around the world - working his passage on steamers to the Far East via the Panama Canal.
On returning to the US he picked up trumpet tips from Louis Armstrong and honed his wrestling skills before heading to Europe. He scratched a living by wrestling in backstreet theatres in Poland until the start of the Second World War.
Believed to have joined the Polish army, Charles was only in barracks for a week before he fled the Nazis.
After hitch-served hiking to Paris, he joined the Ambulance Corps.
An affable man, he befriended a relative of the commander-in-chief of occupied France and socialised with senior German officers - all the while passing back information to the French Resistance.
By impersonating a German ambulance crew, he helped free a group of British prisoners of war who were under French guard.
Next he joined the RAF, but had to quit as a Hurricane pilot after falling ill with tuberculosis. Charles spent most of 1943 recuperating in an Arizona TB clinic before rejoining the American Ambulance Corps in Italy, in 1944.
Towards the end of the war, he served with the French Foreign Legion.
He also married six Jewish women to provide them with an American visa so they could leave their concentration camp.
His bravery earned him high praise from Jewish groups for his role in helping defeat the Nazis. And in January 2006, at Holocaust Memorial Day in Cardiff, Charles was honoured by Tony Blair for helping rescue so many victims.
Speaking from his wheelchair on stage at the Millennium Centre, Charles said: "I thought we could make a difference. It's a responsibility people have." [N.B. The approximate quotation is in fact from footage of Fawcett shown on that evening.]
But although he appeared fearless in the face of danger, April says he was often terrified. "In Marseilles, in 1940, he worked alongside American humanitarian Varian Fry to rescue refugees," she says. "He didn't feel he had great protection and it was a very dangerous city.
"He said later he was scared all the time of being taken by the police, but he never showed it."
And he was the most scared during the Greek civil war - when he avoided the ban on foreign involvement by disguising himself as a journalist to fight the Communists.
Once the Second World War ended, Charles reinvented himself as an actor, appearing in around 100 B-movies. His final screen appearance will be in Pierre Sauvage's And Crown Thy Good, about Varian Fry's mission in Marseilles.
His movie star friends included everyone from Orson Welles to William Holden. He co-starred with Sophia Loren and was the lover of one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Hedy Lamarr.
"He was an extraordinary ladies' man," recalls Pierre. "He was handsome and a devil of a charmer - it's thought he met his Waterloo in April Ducksbury." [N.B. This last remark had been a direct quote from Andy Marino's remarks at the Fawcett memorial service.]
In 1956, Charles helped to rescue refugees from the Hungarian uprising. Then he spent three years in the Belgian Congo, during the civil war in the early 60s, where he flew out those who were unable to escape the fighting. But it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in June 1979, that signalled his longest mission.
Without a second's thought, he told his fiancee he was off to help the Afghan resistance fighters - April had to wait another 12 years to marry the love of her life. Fortunately for Charles, one of the things April loved about him was his desire to help other people and she was happy to wait. They finally tied the knot on March 30, 1991.
April says: "He said he wouldn't marry until the Afghan war was over.
We had an Afghan wedding at a house in Los Angeles and were married by a Muslim mullah. It was the most appropriate thing we could do."
Charles's heroics earned him a slew of decorations including the French Croix de Guerre and the American Eisenhower medal. Sadly, all of them were stolen en route to Washington for President Reagan's inauguration. He finally "retired" at 75.
"After the Afghan war he felt his time was over," says April. "He was 75, he couldn't do anything else on the big cases. He felt the world was in a terrible mess. He didn't know what else to do."
Despite being a recognised hero, there was one area in which Charles felt he didn't shine - as a father.
He had little to do with Marina von Berg, his only daughter from a past relationship, until they were reunited when she was 21.
"Charles felt very sad that Marina wasn't in his life," says April. "But he didn't know what to do. He felt he'd been a hopeless father - he was embarrassed to intrude in her life."
Towards the end of his life, Charles successfully fought cancer. But it was an overactive thyroid and its treatment with radioactive iodine which finally felled this great man. "The treatment made him lose his immediate memory," says April. "He couldn't write or have discussions with me any more.
"It was a terrible shame and very sad to see. He loved life, he was always so interested in everything. In the end, he just gave up."
On Wednesday, April and Marina travelled to Paris - a city Charles adored - and scattered his ashes in the Seine.
"People say I'm lucky to have spent 47 years with him, but that's not much consolation now he's gone," says April. "He was a very kind, very good and very generous man. A real hero."
1915 Born in Georgia Dec 2
1921 Orphaned, taken in by aunts
1930 Age 15, has affair with pal's mum
1932 Travels to Far East via Panama
1935 Trumpet tips from Louis Armstrong
1936 Wrestles in theatres in East Europe
1939 Joins Polish army.. leaves after a week
1940 Joins war ambulance corps
1942 Trains to fly RAF Hurricanes
1943 Is treated for TB in Arizona
1945 Joins Foreign Legion, fights in Alsace
1945 Marries six Jewish women
1948 Fights in Greek Civil War
1949 Begins acting in B-movies
1956 Rescues Hungarian refugees
1957 Makes Boy On A Dolphin with Sophia Loren
1960 On rescue missions in Belgian Congo
1980 Goes to Afghanistan to fight mujahedeen war against the Soviets
1991 Marries April after 30-year engagement
2008 Dies on February 3
Copyright 2008 Daily Mirror
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Revised: February 23, 2008