The Hollywood superstars with their privileged lifestyle and net worth amounting to millions seem to have everything. They are adored and idolized. Their dressing and personal style is copied by millions, and their personal life is followed with fascination and awe, after all they are the modern epitomes of fairy tales.
However, behind that veil which separates their personal life from what is projected by their publicists and PR teams, there sometimes is a bitter truth, a truth that shows how far their life is from perfection, and that shows the darkness that clings to the penumbra of the glitzy spotlight of showbiz.
In this article, we will discuss one such dark truth that has gone onto destroy the perfect paradise of many acting legends. Some of the actors listed in this article took to bottle for fun, while some to tackle depression and loneliness, leading to disastrous results including failed relationships, health problems and in some cases, even death.
Barbara Payton, born in a small Minnesota town, was a rebel from very young age. In 1943 at the age of sixteen, she eloped with high school boyfriend William Hodge. The marriage was nothing more than a teenager’s rebellion against her parents, she didn’t put up a fight when her parents asked her to get it annulled. Then, two years later, she got married to her second husband, decorated combat pilot John Payton. However, Payton realized that dull housewife’s role wasn’t for her and she officially launched her modeling career, which would bring her in contact with show business.
In 1949, she starred in her first movie, but by then, her marriage was completely destroyed and she had become famous as a party girl, known for her wild drinking antics. In coming years, she would become one of the most popular actresses and would work in couple of commercial hit movies. But, her drinking and number of well publicized affairs would destroy her Hollywood dream. She died aged 39 due to liver and heart failure because of her excessive lifestyle.
Bernard Lee was famous for playing the role of M in the first eleven Eon-produced James Bond films. Bernard started fairly early and at the age of six, he had made his stage debut. He was trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In his 50 years of acting career, he appeared in over one hundred films, along with stage and television shows. Everything was fine in his life until 1972, he had appeared in around six James Bond movies, most of which were blockbuster hits. However, on January 30, 1972 tragedy struck. His first wife Gladys Merredew, whom he loved deeply, died in a fire accident at their seventeenth-century home in Oare. At the time of fire, Lee was locked in a room with his wife, he jumped out of the window and tried to save her wife, but failed.
A month later, he was mugged. The mugging and death of his beloved wife, pushed Lee into depression and he became an alcoholic to deal with it. During that period, he was also unemployed and neck deep in debt. He did manage to clear debt and find work, but sadly he couldn’t tackle alcoholism.
Dennis Price had natural aristocratic good looks that made him an instant fan favorite after his first appearance on stage at the Croydon Repertory Theatre in June 1937. He then, made his London debut at the Queen’s Theatre on September 6, 1937 in Richard II and was widely acclaimed for his great acting skills. As a film star, the highest point of his career was as the suave serial murderer Louis Mazzini in the Ealing Comedy ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (1949). However, behind the scenes, Price’s life was falling apart. The emotional burden of failed marriage and hidden homosexuality had made him a serious alcoholic. By 1954, the depression had reached such a height that Price dressed up in his best suit and tried to commit suicide by placing his head in the oven. He was saved by the timely intervention of the cleaning woman.
Due to his enormous size, which was due to the excess growth hormone, André René Roussimoff was called ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’ As a wrestler, he enjoyed immense success, and was a one-time WWF Champion and a one-time WWF Tag Team Champion. Such was his popularity that in 1974 Guinness Book of World Records, he was mentioned as the highest-paid wrestler in history. In the early 1970’s, he was said to earn US $400,000 in one year.
Unfortunately, Andre was also well known for his alcoholism. He was unofficially crowned “The Greatest Drunk on Earth” for drinking 119 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) beers (over 41 litres) in 6 hours. He had once famously claimed that it usually used to take two liters of vodka just to make him feel warm inside. Another interesting anecdote about Andre is that he raked up a bill of $40,000 in a month for alcohol while shooting ‘The Princess Bride,’ the movie which would make him a famous actor.
According to many, John Barrymore was one of the finest actors of his generation. He began his career as a stage actor and within years of his debut, became well known for his acting in Shakespeare plays. For his masterful portrayal in Hamlet, he was labeled the “greatest living American tragedian.” Similarly, his acting in movies was well received and he went to star in acclaimed movies such as ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1920), ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (1922) and ‘The Sea Beast’ (1926).
However, unfortunately, soon his raging alcoholism caught him up and in 1930’s, he began his sad decline. Most of the major movie studios were wary of his indiscipline and disruptive presence on the sets. According to reports, he had struggled with alcohol abuse from the age of 14. On May 29, 1942, he died from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure which was attributed to his hard drinking lifestyle.
Peter O’Toole was one of the most accomplished British actors. In his impressive career, he won four Golden Globes, a BAFTA and an Emmy, and was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award in 2003. Also, he was part of the timeless classic movies such as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962), ‘Becket’ (1964), ‘The Lion in Winter’ (1968) and ‘Venus’ (2006). He was also well known for his skilled performances in Shakespeare plays and other stage drama. What makes his achievements even more impressive was that he was a raging alcoholic.
His drinking sprees, while shooting for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in Beirut were widely known. It is also reported that he was completely drunk during the entire shooting of the movie. He did quit drinking after repeated warnings from doctor and severe abdominal pains. But, by then, damage was done. Due to his stomach cancer, chain smoking and alcohol excess, he had become a shell of a great actor.
Such was ravage of alcohol on his body that when some years before his death, Richard Burton underwent an operation, the doctors found his spine covered with crystallized alcohol and kidneys inflated to abnormal size. He was warned by doctors of possible consequences of his alcohol abuse, but Burton wasn’t one to listen and died at the age of 58 with his body overrun by symptoms of alcoholism.
Burton, who was a magnificent actor had started drinking at the age of 12. His dynamic acting style, strong baritone voice, and volatile relationship with Elizabeth Taylor was well known and so were his drinking sprees. During his worst periods, he was rumored to drink three bottles of vodka a day. He was reported to have been so drunk during the shooting of ‘The Klansman’ that due to his inability to stand, all his scenes were shot while sitting or lying.
Errol Flynn was the original sex symbol of Hollywood. Warner Bros had expended much time and resources establishing Flynn as the romantic idol by focusing on his masculinity and natural good looks. His romantic swashbuckler roles made him immensely popular among female fans and also made him one of the most bankable stars, in the late 1940s, his fee was $200,000 a film. However, in reality he was a notorious playboy, brawler and a severe alcoholic. It is also reported that he regularly hosted sex, alcohol, and cocaine-fueled parties. In 1942, he was accused of raping two underage girls, the scandal was widely publicized and completely damaged Flynn’s image as an ideal romantic hero.
Due to his excessive lifestyle, he had collapsed in an elevator in his early thirties, after which doctor informed him that his heart and lungs had been damaged and asked him to change his lifestyle. But, Flynn continued his depraved lifestyle and died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.
The man’s biggest regret can tell a lot about his priorities and lifestyle. So, you can easily guess what kind of crazy life Oliver Reed led after you learn that his only regret was that he “didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” Reed was well known for his on screen persona of a macho, hellraiser and tough guy. At the height of his success, he was voted as the 5th most popular star at the box office.
The anecdotes of his crazy binge drinking and alcoholism were legendary. For example, it is said that once Reed and 36 friends drunk 60 gallons of beer, 32 bottles of scotch, 17 bottles of gin, four crates of wine, and a bottle of Babycham in an evening. Reed died the way he lived. During a shooting break of his final film Gladiator, he went to a pub, drank eight bottles of beer, three bottles of rum, and a few shots of whisky, suffered a heart attack and died shortly.
Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest superstars of his time and has been named as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema by the American Film Institute. During his acting career of around 30 years, he worked in 75 feature films, received three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and won one out of it. His roles in cult hits such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The Big Sleep established his legacy as a timeless star.
However, off screen, he was a heavy drinker and chain smoker. When drunk, he had a tendency to become angry, stubborn and even abusive, which made one of his acquaintance remark that Bogart is a great guy provided you meet him before 11:30. There is another amusing anecdote about his drinking. He was once dragged to the court for assaulting couple of women who tried to take his toy panda that he had brought to an exclusive club as a drinking partner. He died in 1957 because of the cancer of the esophagus which was caused by his long term drinking and smoking.