NEW YORK - Murray Rose, who won four Olympic gold medals in swimming for Australia, becoming one of his nation’s most celebrated athletes before going to Hollywood to try his hand in the movies, died Sunday in Sydney. He was 73.
The cause was leukemia, said Swimming Australia, the sport’s national governing body.
At 17, Mr. Rose won three golds at the 1956 Melbourne Games. He captured the 400 meters and the 1,500-meter freestyle and was part of the victorious 4x200-meter freestyle relay team.
“He has become, in a very short time, an All-Australian Boy among those looking for a hero Down Under,’’ Gay Talese wrote in July 1957. “With his clean-cut good looks, his status there is comparable here to that of Mickey Mantle, whom Rose has never heard of.’’
Mr. Rose won the gold in the 400 freestyle again at the 1960 Rome Games; took the silver in the 1,500, finishing behind his countryman John Konrads; and was on the 4x200 relay team that won the bronze.
Gus Stager of the University of Michigan, head coach of the US swimming team at Rome, called Mr. Rose “the greatest swimmer who ever lived, greater even than Johnny Weissmuller.’’
Handsome and blond, Mr. Rose graduated from the University of Southern California in 1962, having studied drama and television, and had a couple of roles in a short-lived Hollywood career.
He appeared in the 1964 film “Ride the Wild Surf,’’ starring Tab Hunter, whom he resembled, along with Fabian, Shelley Fabares, and Barbara Eden. He played a military officer in the 1968 action film “Ice Station Zebra,’’ starring Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.
Although he later appeared in a few television shows, he said that he was not passionate enough to make the commitment acting required.
Mr. Rose won four gold medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games and might have won more than six Olympic medals if he had not run afoul of the Australian swimming authorities. They refused to let him compete in the trials for the 1964 Tokyo Games because his moviemaking had kept him from competing in Australia’s nationals, the qualifier for the trials.
Mr. Rose was a vegan at a time when shunning meat and fish was decidedly an oddity. His diet included sunflower seeds, sesame, unpolished rice, dates, cashew nuts, and carrot juice. His mother prepared his meals.
Mr. Rose remained a renowned sports figure in Australia, along with Betty Cuthbert, who won three sprinting gold medals at the 1956 Games. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Sports Minister Kate Lundy issued a joint statement calling Mr. Rose “a true pioneer of Australian swimming.’’
Iain Murray Rose (his first name was in honor of his Gaelic ancestors) was born in Birmingham, England. His family moved to the Sydney area when he was a baby. He began taking swimming lessons at age 5.
When he was a youngster, his coach, Sam Herford, helped him develop what Sports Illustrated once described as “Rose’s special signature,’’ a “split-second pause that occurs as he leans on his extended right arm and breathes on his left side, a pause during which he is absolutely relaxed.
“Then the right forearm drives downward, the legs thrash, and the power surges.’’
In his later years, Mr. Rose helped provide swimming lessons for mentally and physically disabled Australian children. He was among eight Olympic flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Sydney Games.
He leaves his wife, Jodi, and a son, Trevor.