Death on any level is sad and tragic to those mourners left behind. The glitz and glamor of movie stars and Hollywood have added to the pitfalls of a famous person and their death despite much personal loss that we rarely see behind the scenes. Many legends have been lost before their time, sometimes due to the pressures of work that is exacerbated by living in the everyday lens of a movie camera.
These Hollywood legends were lost well before their time on this planet. Examining what these people went through, even in the early life of movie stardom, can help us to relate better to more contemporary celebrities that also come to unfortunate endings well before they should have died.
Errol Flynn was one of Hollywood’s first heroes. By the time he starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938, Flynn had already acted in movies for five years and had become a star for his role in Captain Blood.
You could say adventure was in Flynn’s blood. His mother was a direct descendant of a sailor on the HMS Bounty, famous for their mutinous crew that overthrew the captain. When he grew up in England he was kicked out of just about every school in which he was enrolled according to Britain’s Biography Channel. Flynn’s acting was a way for him to deal with his childhood angst. His parents had no interest in plays or acting as his father was a biologist.
His lifestyle choices including much drinking and alcohol and he died at the age of 50 in 1959 in Vancouver. The official cause of death listed on the cover of the autopsy report for Errol Leslie Flynn was myocardial infarction. On top of that, it was found he had cirrhosis of the liver, hardened arteries, and a diseased colon.
In Flynn’s case art truly did imitate life. His combative roles often mimicked the tortured and angry soul within. Typecast as a swashbuckling hero who always gets the woman in the end, Flynn was also accused and later acquitted of statutory rape in the early 1940s. Flynn was laid to rest in Los Angeles’ Forest Lawn Memorial Park (where Michael Jackson is buried) far from the homelands of his reckless youth.
Unlike Errol Flynn, Judy Garland’s parents both were famous entertainers in their own right. Frank and Ethel Gumm had both starred in vaudeville shows and took their three girls along with them. As the girls grew older they soon branched out on their own with their mother being their road manager. Frances Gumm was the youngest and she later changed her name to Judy Garland and earned her first Hollywood role in the short musical film Every Sunday in 1936.
Very shortly, Garland would star with Mickey Rooney and then achieve super stardom in the film adaptation of the musical The Wizard of Oz. The long hours of rehearsing and filming took their toll on Garland as she became addicted to amphetamines when studio executives had suggested she try to remain thin for her on screen appearance.
According to Biography.com, Garland was married five times. She was also a Grammy-winning singer for her performance at Carnegie Hall in 1961. She married her fifth husband Mickey Deans three months before her untimely death in London, England, reportedly of an accidental overdose of pills. In 1969, Hollywood mourned the loss of a talent that could never be replaced.
Unlike Errol Flynn, Garland’s childhood was surrounded by the love of performing. At a young age she understood what it took to be a successful performer and she tried to translate that success to films. Although her film career was legendary, the high cost was her life at the age of 47.
As we reflect back upon the more recent lives lost, these two legends of the big screen died around the age of 50. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was also 50 and reminds me as the combination of both Errol Flynn and Judy Garland. Both Flynn and Garland, as well as Michael Jackson, left behind children that still needed the guidance of the parents who passed away.
Flynn’s parents had no performing background whatsoever and worked hard for their family. Garland’s parents took their kids on the road and entertained at an early age. Both of their lives have served as a lesson to those of us who study them that no amount of stress, parental pressure, and money is worth your own life. These same demons plague everyday lives on a constant basis.
While we still hear the names of Jackson, Ledger, and Murphy as recent cases of Hollywood’s tragic endings let us not forget that these lessons have already surfaced a half century ago. Until our society disfavors what looks good on the outside instead of the heart and soul within, we will continue to allow the lives of those we revere the most to be destroyed needlessly.