Marlon Brando notoriety, his troubled family life, and his obesity attracted more attention than his late acting career. He gained a great deal of weight in the 1960s and by the mid-1990s he weighed over 300 lbs. (136 kg) and suffered from diabetes. Like Orson Welles, he had a history of weight fluctuations through his career which, by and large, he attributed to his years of stress-related overeating followed by compensatory dieting. He also earned a reputation for being difficult on the set, often unwilling or unable to memorize his lines and less interested in taking direction than in confronting the film director with odd demands. He also dabbled with some innovation in his last years. He had several patents issued in his name from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, all of which involve a method of tensioning drum heads, in June 2002–November 2004.
The actor was a longtime close friend of entertainer Michael Jackson and paid regular visits to his Neverland Ranch, resting there for weeks at a time. Brando also participated in the singer’s two-day solo career 30th-anniversary celebration concerts in 2001, and starred in his 13-minute-long music video, “You Rock My World,” in the same year. On Jackson’s 30th anniversary concert, Brando gave a rambling speech to the audience on humanitarian work which received a poor reaction and was unaired. The actor’s son, Miko, was Jackson’s bodyguard and assistant for several years, and was a friend of the singer. He stated, “The last time my father left his house to go anywhere, to spend any kind of time… was with Michael Jackson. He loved it… He had a 24-hour chef, 24-hour security, 24-hour help, 24-hour kitchen, 24-hour maid service. “Michael was instrumental helping my father through the last few years of his life. For that I will always be indebted to him. Dad had a hard time breathing in his final days, and he was on oxygen much of the time. He loved the outdoors, so Michael would invite him over to Neverland. Dad could name all the trees there, and the flowers, but being on oxygen it was hard for him to get around and see them all, it’s such a big place. So Michael got Dad a golf cart with a portable oxygen tank so he could go around and enjoy Neverland. They’d just drive around—Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando, with an oxygen tank in a golf cart.” In 2004, Brando signed with Tunisian film director Ridha Behion and began pre-production on a project to be titled Brando and Brando. Up to a week before his death, he was working on the script in anticipation of a July/August 2004 start date. Production was suspended in July 2004 following Brando’s death, at which time Behi stated that he would continue the film as an homage to Brando,
with a new title of Citizen Brando. On July 1, 2004, Brando died of respiratory failure from pulmonary fibrosis with congestive heart failure at the UCLA Medical Center. He left behind 13 children (two of his children, Cheyenne and Dylan Brando, had predeceased him) as well as over 30 grandchildren. He was also survived by his sister Jocelyn. The cause of death was initially withheld, with his lawyer cited privacy concerns. He also suffered from failing eyesight caused by diabetes and liver cancer. Shortly before his death and despite needing an oxygen mask to breathe, he recorded his voice to appear in The Godfather: The Game, once again as Don Vito Corleone. Karl Malden, Brando’s fellow actor in A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, and One-Eyed Jacks (the only film directed by Brando), talks in a documentary accompanying the DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire about a phone call he received from Brando shortly before Brando’s death. A distressed Brando told Malden he kept falling over. Malden wanted to come over, but Brando put him off, telling him there was no point. Three weeks later, Brando was dead. Shortly before his death, he had apparently refused permission for tubes carrying oxygen to be inserted into his lungs, which, he was told, was the only way to prolong his life. Brando was cremated, and his ashes were put in with those of his childhood friend Wally Cox and another longtime friend, Sam Gilman. They were then scattered partly in Tahiti and partly in Death Valley. In 2007, a 165-minute biopic of Brando for Turner Classic Movies, Brando: The Documentary, produced by Mike Medavoy (the executor of Brando’s will), was released.