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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Rod Steiger, the beefy, intense actor who won the Academy Award as best actor of 1967 for his role as the unrelenting police chief of a small Southern town in ``In the Heat of the Night,'' died Tuesday. He was 78.

Steiger died at a Los Angeles-area hospital at 9 a.m. of pneumonia and kidney failure, said his publicist, Lori De Waal.

A devoted practitioner of method acting, Steiger prided himself in undertaking challenging roles, especially real-life persons. ``My generation of actors was taught to be able to create different people; that's what an actor is supposed to do,'' he explained.

In movies and television, he convincingly portrayed such figures as Mussolini, Rasputin, Pope John XXIII, Rudolph Hess, Pontius Pilate, Napoleon, W.C. Fields and Al Capone.

``I'm 60 percent virgin and 40 percent whore,'' he claimed in a 2000 TV interview. ``I've not sold out that much, and I've made my own mistakes.''

He admitted that he made a big mistake in declining the lead in ``Patton,'' believing the film would glorify war and killing. George C. Scott played the role, and it brought him an Academy Award (which he refused).