Curtis's life could have come straight from one of his film scripts: rising from an impoverished background in the Bronx to become Hollywood's handsome leading man in the 1950s and 1960s.
A string of hits alongside Burt Lancaster in the late 1950s, including roles in "Trapeze," "Spartacus" and "Sweet Smell of Success," transformed the son of poor Hungarian immigrants into one of Tinsel Town's most sought-after actors.
He won his only Oscar nomination for the 1958 film "The Defiant Ones" in which he and Sidney Poitier play prison inmates who break out and spend most of the story chained together by handcuffs.
Curtis insisted his black co-star receive equal billing -- a racial breakthrough at the time.
He is perhaps best known for his role as Marilyn Monroe's cross-dressing paramour in the 1959 Billy Wilder hilarious classic comedy "Some Like It Hot."
At the end of the 1960s he had a small-screen success with Roger Moore in the TV series "The Pretenders."
But Curtis -- who once boasted he had slept with 1,000 women -- will be remembered as much for his off-screen dalliances as for his acting, which never won him the critical acclaim and respect that he sought.
Known for his thick crop of black hair and plucked eyebrows, he became such a mega-star that his raffish quiff was adopted by Elvis Presley -- suddenly everyone wanted what barbers knew as a "Tony Curtis."
The eldest child of a Jewish tailor, Curtis was born June 3, 1925 and grew up in the back of his father's shop. His parents were so poor that he and brother Julius were briefly sent to an orphanage.
In his frank 2008 autobiography, "American Prince: A Memoir," Curtis laid bare that poverty-stricken upbringing, detailing the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In 1938, his brother Julius died after being hit by a truck. Family tragedy would also haunt Curtis later in life when his son Nicholas died of a heroin overdose at 23. And Curtis battled his own demons of drug and alcohol abuse.
At age 16, a young Curtis enlisted in the Marines and ended up a crewman on a submarine, witnessing at close-hand the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945.
After an honorable discharge, Curtis enrolled in acting school and began playing stage roles until film producer David Selznick spotted the young talent.
Bit parts paid the bills until Curtis, who by this time had dispensed with his given name Bernard Schwartz, got his break with a major role in the 1950 action-western "Sierra."
In a 2008 interview with AFP in his art studio overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, Curtis described his dramatic, sex-soaked ascent to stardom as well as a traumatic decline and descent into cocaine addiction.
"I don't feel like I got the movies I should've gotten," said Curtis, who felt he was denied meaty roles that went to Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. "I felt I deserved more than what the industry had given me."
He also acknowledged he may have been addicted to sex. "I realized if I could mount a girl -- and that sounds very cruel and very bestial but examine it for what it is -- a woman has accepted me."
After a three-year affair with a young Monroe, Curtis married six times. He was later candid about how his misdeeds had destroyed five marriages and ruined his relationships with his children.
Curtis's first wife was Janet Leigh, the screaming shower scene starlet of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." "For a while, we were Hollywood’s golden couple," he later said, admitting that she broke his heart when they split.
Estranged for many years from the couple's actress daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, he is survived by his sixth wife Jill, whom he married in 1998 when he was 73 and she was a 30-year-old voluptuous blond.
A veteran of more than 120 films, Curtis was also an accomplished flautist and a painter whose work resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.