PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Film star Joseph Cotten, who lost the ability to speak after a stroke four years ago but regained it through tough therapy, was hugged by fans during a comeback appearance at a senior citizens home.

''I'm doing all right,'' the 80-year-old actor said haltingly. ''I can't say...therapy.''

''You did too, Joe. You just said it,'' said his speech therapist, Lowell Nece.

Cotten, star of ''The Magnificent Ambersons'' and Alfred Hitchcock's ''Shadow of a Doubt,'' appeared opposite Orson Welles in ''Citizen Kane'' and ''The Third Man'' and co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in ''Niagara'' and Bette Davis in ''Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.'' On Broadway some of his starring roles were ''Postman Always Rings Twice'' ''Jezebel'' and the ''Philadelphia Story.''

His acting was highlighted by the resonant quality of the voice he lost.

But four years of speech therapy enabled the actor to regain it and greet nearly 100 elderly people at the California Nursing and Rehabilitation Center here Tuesday.

''He didn't know if he was ready,'' said his wife, actress Patricia Medina. ''But this is great for him. He wants to help them as much as possible. He wants to tell them they must never give up. Never.''

As the star attraction at the first-ever Community Celebrity Celebration, Cotten was besieged by autograph seekers in wheelchairs, many of whom are undergoing similar therapy.

One patient, Charlotte Rupelt, hurled herself at Cotten, shouting, ''I have to hug him. He was my favorite star for so many years.''

''You can't beat this,'' said a grinning Cotten, opening his arms to welcome the woman.

Cotten's wife said he didn't give up after his stroke.

''I admire him so. He started with nothing,'' she said. ''He never lost his sense of humor. I'd counsel anyone who goes through here that it's important to be able to laugh, even if you're crying inside.''

''Isn't this marvelous?,'' said Nece. ''Joe had completely lost his ability to translate his thoughts into speech. He's worked awfully hard.''

Kathy Wood, center activity director, hopes Cotten's appearance will prompt other local celebrities to visit convalescent homes.

''We're celebrating our celebrities and our community,'' she said, watching Cotten talk with his fans. ''But we're celebrating recovery, too.''