Inside the Most Publicly Tragic Chapter of Marlon Brando’s Scandalous Family History

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Marlon Brando had a strange life.

He was French-Polynesian-island-owning wealthy and beyond-famous, of course, having made his mark during Hollywood's golden age as the epitome of the gorgeous, sensitive, vaguely dangerous leading man, decades before he played the titular patriarch in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and firmly cemented his status as a living legend. Jack NicholsonMartin Sheen, Sean Penn, Javier Bardem and Ryan Gosling are a small sampling of the male stars who've worshiped at the altar of Brando the artist.

His gravelly voice, quirky mannerisms and brooding intensity became fodder for both loving homage and, eventually, parody. But the enigmatic actor's life also got off on an unstable foot, growing up with an alcoholic mother and emotionally remote father who split up when he was 11. The charismatic kid from Omaha, Neb., spent time in military school, where he became quite the prankster, and then made his way to New York to try his hand at acting.

He made his Broadway debut at 20 and won his first Oscar at 30, romanced countless women, including Marilyn Monroe, and over the course of five decades became a father to at least nine children.

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Brando's list of famous paramours also included Rita Moreno, who opened up in her 2013 memoir about getting pregnant toward the end of their eight-year, on-and-off relationship and almost dying from complications of an illegal abortion—after which Brando left town to film Mutiny on the Bounty and fell for his co-star Tarita Teriipaia, who became his third wife in 1962.

When he got home from the shoot, Moreno wrote, she was alone in his house one morning and swallowed some of his sleeping pills in her distress. Luckily Brando's assistant found her and she was rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. The Puerto Rican star had recently finished shooting West Side Story and her Oscar win in April 1962 was still ahead of her.

"He kept disappointing me," Moreno said of Brando on the May 9 episode of Hoda Kotb's Making Space podcast, the man she called "the lust of my life" still fodder for conversation all these years later.

"But let's put things in proper perspective," she continued. "You let things happen, all right? People aren't just mean to you. If you keep letting them disappoint you and hurt you, then there's something wrong with this relationship, including yourself. So having said that, I just got disappointed for the last time. We came back together after separating. It was a very obsessive relationship."

Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Brando didn't discuss his three marriages or many kids in his 1994 memoir co-written with Robert Lindsey, Songs My Mother Taught Me, stating that the book was in part to correct all the rumors and misconceptions about him for his children's benefit, so that they "can separate the truth from the myths that others have created about me."

Missing from the narrative, however, was the most publicly tumultuous chapter of Brando's sprawling family history to date, which had unfolded a few years prior to the book's publication—and the memoir's release came just months before the episode's tragic coda.

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