Lee Van Cleef – A Prolific Actor’s Naval Service

Lee Van Cleef was an American actor best known for his distinctive looks and roles in Western films and television series.

Though his acting career was significant, few know about Van Cleef’s service in the United States Navy, a crucial part of his life that shaped his future endeavors.


Early Life And Enlistment

Born Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef Jr. on January 9, 1925, in Somerville, New Jersey, Lee Van Cleef grew up in a supportive family. His early life was marked by normal childhood pursuits and interests, with no apparent inclination towards acting. With the advent of World War II, like many other young men of his generation, Van Cleef enlisted in the United States Navy in 1942, at the age of 17.

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During his time in the Navy, Van Cleef served as a Sonarman aboard minesweepers, participating in significant naval operations. He was deployed on the USS Incredible, where his responsibilities included detecting and identifying underwater threats, such as submarines and mines.

He honed his skills in operating the sonar equipment, interpreting sonar data, and effectively communicating the information to the appropriate personnel.

Van Cleef’s service was characterized by commitment, diligence, and courage. Working on minesweepers was no small feat, as these vessels were tasked with clearing naval mines to secure sea lanes for other ships.

Lee Van Cleef in the movie 'Death Rides a Horse' in 1967.
Lee Van Cleef in the movie ‘Death Rides a Horse’ in 1967.

This job was perilous, requiring precision, focus, and a deep understanding of naval tactics and technology. Van Cleef rose to the occasion, displaying a level of responsibility and leadership that earned him respect among his peers.

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Transition To Acting

Following his discharge from the Navy at the end of World War II, Van Cleef struggled to find a stable career path. He initially worked as an office administrator but soon realized that this line of work did not suit him.

The turning point came when he was discovered for his unique looks and presence, launching a career in acting that would span over three decades.

Van Cleef's most iconic role was in the 1966 movie 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'
Van Cleef’s most iconic role was in the 1966 movie ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’

Van Cleef began his acting career on stage, gradually moving on to television and film roles. His naval experiences undoubtedly influenced his ability to assume different characters and navigate the demanding world of acting. His roles, often as a villain in Western and action films, showcased his range and depth as an actor.

What was the case of Lee Van Cleef death?

Lee Van Cleef died in 1989 from a heart attack and throat cancer. He was a military and navy officer whom the army discharged after receiving many awards, such as the Bronze Star. Twenty years after his military discharge, he starred in many Western films for which he received the Golden Boot Award. He now rests in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.