DEAD: John Barrymore

DEAD: ON THIS DATE

John Barrymore (aged 60)
American actor of stage, screen and radio

John Sidney Barrymore (February 15, 1882 – May 29, 1942) was an American actor on stage, screen and radio. A member of the Drew and Barrymore theatrical families, he initially tried to avoid the stage, and briefly attempted a career as an artist, but appeared on stage together with his father Maurice in 1900, and then his sister Ethel the following year. He began his career in 1903 and first gained attention as a stage actor in light comedy, then high drama, culminating in productions of Justice (1916), Richard III (1920) and Hamlet (1922); his portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the “greatest living American tragedian”.

DEATH: In October 1940, Barrymore returned to the NBC Radio network to work on Rudy Vallée’s show, now called the Sealtest Show. Barrymore recorded 74 episodes of the program, continuing in the vein of self-parody, with jokes about his drinking, declining career and marital issues. On May 19, 1942, while recording a line from Romeo and Juliet for the show, Barrymore collapsed. He was taken to the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and died there on May 29, from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure, complicated by pneumonia. Shortly before his death, Barrymore returned to the faith of the Catholic Church. Although Errol Flynn’s memoirs claim that the film director Raoul Walsh “borrowed” Barrymore’s body before burial to leave his corpse propped in a chair for a drunken Flynn to discover when he returned home, Gene Fowler, a close friend of Barrymore, stayed with the body all night and denies the story. Barrymore was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles on June 2. In 1980, Barrymore’s son had his father’s body reinterred at Philadelphia’s Mount Vernon Cemetery.

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