The photo above provides the answer to that question. Marlon Brando was so cool that he could not support his own body weight. The actor’s notorious “I can’t make myself care” persona—so essential for portraying outsiders and iconoclasts on the screen—eventually affected his physiology to the extent that Brando’s central nervous system adopted the same attitude, rendering his muscular frame almost useless at times. That may sound improbable, but a survey of his career reveals this little-known but astonishing fact about the great actor.
Notice how, in The Wild One, Brando used that motorcycle (and even whole portions of the set) to prevent himself from falling down. It didn’t always work. The guys in the property department would tease Brando with “What kind of “prop” do you need for this next scene, Marlon?” Brando was like, “Whadda you got?”
This condition would have been a career killer for the average actor, but this master of The Method merely incorporated his affliction into various roles. Often he was quite subtle; check out how he would use a post, telephone pole, or door frame to support himself.
Regrettably, as his fame grew, so too did Brando’s cocky attitude. He became, as Truman Capote famously noted, Hollywood’s most handsome professional recliner. He could be a real show-off at times.
Where this was all leading no one could guess at the time, but the LIFE magazine shot below does offer almost prescient foreshadowing.
And so one day his entire body said, in so many words, “To hell with it.” Brando faced a long climb back to the top.
But again, here’s how damn cool Brando was: rather than spend years in rehab, he chose instead to find even more diabolically clever ways to continue propping himself up, or just fully recline if he could get away with it. Sometimes he would use pets, or maybe a swing set, or even a woman. Sly devil!
When he got the role in The Missouri Breaks as a hit man going after cattle rustlers in the Great American West, the producers figured there wouldn’t be any lying down on the job for that role. Well, they obviously missed Brando’s performance in The Godfather.
So there you have it. Brando was just too cool to stand up straight. He made a career—nay, a lifestyle—of reclining, lying down, or holding himself up by grabbing the nearest motorcycle, stage prop, or woman. I guess we can all learn from that: when life gives you lemons, have someone bring you a tall glass of lemonade.