The inspiration for crazed Apocalypse Now character COLONEL KURTZ has died at the age of 74.

Vietnam War veteran DAVID HACKWORTH - who was brought to the big screen by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 epic - died at a hospital in Mexico after a battle with cancer.

Hackworth won 91 medals and was hailed by a top American general as "the best battalion commander I ever saw in the United States Army", following his performance in the Vietnam conflict. He famously wiped out 2,500 North Vietnamese soldiers in one combat and only lost 25 of his men.

However, although Hackworth was a skilled fighter, his maverick tendencies and forceful approach to leadership garnered him a notorious reputation. One of his controversial Vietnam projects included a brothel - which he justified by insisting it protected his army from syphilis.

He was also a hard taskmaster who drove his men to such an extent they are said to have put a bounty on his head.

Apocalypse Now portrays Kurtz as a brilliant but corrupted Green Beret leader, who the US army orders to be assassinated after he sets himself up as a god among a tribe.

10/05/2005 02:15