Marlon Brando moved around a lot as a kid. He was born in Omaha Nebraska and lived in Evanston, Illinois, Santa Ana, California and Libertyville, Illinois. He died in 2004 of respiratory failure.
Brando was described by friends and biographers as a deeply philosophical man, but he was never religious in the conventional sense. He was raised to some degree by his grandmother, who was a devout Christian Scientist. He never adopted Christianity, though, and even refused to swear a religious oath in court, something that led many to consider him an atheist.
But I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Brando showed an interest in a wide range of religious/spiritual belief systems and philosophies of man. Roommate and biographer, David Ge’lin, said:
He was interested in philosophies, the spiritual life, and religions. He was most particularly interested in the German philosophers, particularly Nietzsche, and the Hindu religion.
At times, Brando sounds like a pantheist, saying he had an “inexhaustible awe and reverence for nature” and that, philosophically he most related to the American Indians, whose tribal religions do revere the natural world as a mystical and spiritual force. But he was also fascinated with Eastern religions and tried to meditate twice a day.
It would seem that Brando was fascinated with metaphysical topics and refused easy answers in pre-established belief systems. Perhaps it could be viewed as inconsistent and confused, but I would say it was more of an acknowledgement of the complexity, nuance and ambiguity of spirituality and the nature of humankind.
Politics from behind the wall
Brando was a notorious recluse. He was a bit of a political activist at times, but for the most part, he really wanted to keep to himself. He once said:
If there’s anything unsettling to the stomach, it’s watching actors on television talk about their personal lives.
Officially, Brando was a Democrat. But it seems unlikely he was really that interested in party politics. Brando’s activism was generally race-related and oriented toward equality in society. Possibly his two most controversial public statements were:
sending an Apache Native American to refuse his Oscar for The Godfather in protest of the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.
appearing on television with members of the militant Black Panthers during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. The move caused widespread boycotting of Brando’s films in the Southeastern U.S., scaring shareholders and causing Brando to not make a film for three years after the incident.
Furthermore, Brando was often outraged by U.S. policy abroad, particularly covert military and CIA operations in South America.
Of apathy (and antagonism) toward the world’s less-fortunate and those marginalized groups of people, Brando said:
If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.