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10 Iconic Actresses Who Tragically Ended Their Lives
Although their lives seem exciting and appealing, the lives of film, television, and stage actresses are not always easy. In some cases, failed relationships, deaths in the family, or health problems may drive them to an early grave—at their own hands. We’ll miss you all.
From the outside, Lucy Gordon seemed to be on top of the world. She was born in Oxford, England before moving to France for most of her childhood. Gordon made her screen debut in 2001 and went on to star with some of the biggest names in cinema, including John Cusack, Audrey Tautou, and Tobey Maguire. Throughout the 2000s, she found herself in smaller film roles in hits like Serendipity and Spider-Man 3, although her big breakthrough performance was as the real-life actress and singer Jane Birkin in 2010’s Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, which she reportedly loved working on.
She was noted by her coworkers as generous, gentle, and greatly talented, and by her family as the kind of person “who gave her all for others and thought of others before herself.” So it came as a shock to friends and family alike when, two days before her 29th birthday, Gordon’s boyfriend found her body hanging in her Paris apartment. Those closest to her admitted that she had been intensely disturbed by the recent suicide of a friend.
Born in Wisconsin to a poor family as the youngest of five children, the star-struck and lovely Frances Lillian Mary Ridste spent her childhood dreaming of big things. After saving $100, she took a bus to San Francisco, dyed her hair blonde, and eventually had her name legally changed to Carole Landis.
Starting off as a hula dancer, Landis gradually worked her way up in show business, starring in numerous bit parts until she finally landed a breakthrough performance in the film One Million B.C., which put her in the public eye and led to a long relationship with 20th Century Fox.
Throughout the 1940s, Landis starred in well-received dramas, musicals, and comedies alongside Victor Mature, Rita Hayworth, and many other celebrities. Although she received a certain notoriety for her numerous marriages and steamy affairs, she won admiration as one of the best-dressed screen stars, and even received an award as the actress who had “done the most for the war effort.”
In 1947, though, began her secret, ill-fated love affair with Rex Harrison, who is believed to be the reason for her suicide. Unable to deal with the fact that he could not divorce his wife for her, she left him and her mother a suicide note and then consumed a fatal dose of barbiturates.
Born in Toulon, France, Germaine Lefebvre worked at a bank early in life, but everything changed the day she was noticed by a photographer while riding in a carriage at age 17. This quickly resulted in her becoming a model for brands like Christian Dior and Givenchy, and she later took on the name Capucine.
In the 1950s, Capucine decided to travel to New York, and it’s there that she began an affair with producer Charles Feldman, who took her to Hollywood to study both acting and English. Making her debut in 1960, she became a Hollywood sensation with films like The Lion and North to Alaska, although she left her biggest mark as the femme fatale and sensual wife of Detective Clouseau in the 1963 comedy The Pink Panther.
Her beauty and talent made Capucine a star around the world. She starred alongside Hollywood titans like John Wayne, William Holden, and Peter Sellers, and she was friends with celebrities like Audrey Hepburn. Despite her fame, though, those who knew her intimately claimed that she was struggling with inner demons, including illness and depression. After making several suicide attempts, she finally jumped from her penthouse apartment in Switzerland and fell eight stories to her death in March 1990.
Born in Ohio in 1904, Holman went on to become the youngest woman at the time to graduate from the University of Cincinnati, after which she moved to New York with hopes of appearing on Broadway. Her first major performance was in 1925 with the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical The Garrick Gaieties, and she continued to appear in famous productions during the ’20s and ’30s.
Wherever Holman went, however, scandal followed. She swore, drank, visited clubs, and had high-profile affairs with both men and women. Her first husband, tobacco tycoon Zachary Smith Reynolds, seemingly committed suicide in 1932, although some claimed that she’d murdered him. Her second husband, actor Ralph de Rimer Holmes, also committed suicide.
Though she lived precariously and was known for being risque, she continued to impact the world even after her last stage performance in 1938’s musical You Never Know. She was known for her throaty, sensual renditions of songs like “Give Me Something to Remember You By,” “Body and Soul,” and “Moanin’ Low.” Known for her beauty, stage persona, activism, and fiery personal life, she touched the lives of music lovers and celebrities everywhere, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Montgomery Clift.
In 1972, however, depressed with the era and the deaths of her son and several close friends, she was found topless and asphyxiated in her parked car with the engine running, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Born on a rubber plantation in what is now Malaysia, Jill Bennett may have seemed at the time to have little chance of success in either stage or film. However, she went on to do both. Upon traveling to England, Bennett received an education in the 1940s at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre after her graduation at the age of 18 and soon fell passionately in love with 60-year-old actor Sir Godfrey Tearle, a time that she later described as the most delightful of her life.
Renowned on the stage during the ’60s and ’70s in everything from classical theater to drama and comedy, she is especially memorable as Hedda in her husband and playwright John Osborne’s 1972 adaptation of Hedda Gabler. Today, she is most known for her television and film roles, which can be found in movies like Moulin Rouge, Lust for Life, and The Sheltering Sky.
Although she was generally insecure and viewed herself as ugly, she was known for her intelligence, wit, and the emotional vulnerability she projected in her parts. However, struggling with a constant sense of failure and a difficult relationship with a Swiss businessman, she finally ended her suffering with an overdose of sleeping pills in 1990.
A delicate-looking redhead who lived in an apartment on East 68th Street, Elizabeth Hartman first jumped into the public eye in 1966 with her performance in the film A Patch of Blue, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. However, she later expressed that the “initial success beat me down,” putting her in “a position where I didn’t belong. I was not ready for that. I suddenly found myself failing.”
Although she spent a lot of time just reading and brooding, she did enjoy acclaimed leading roles in films like The Group, You’re a Big Boy Now, and The Fixer, enjoying the company of big names like Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, and Clint Eastwood. She even enjoyed a successful stint on Broadway.
But despite her success, Hartman found herself in the throes of depression by age 45. In June 1987, Hartman called her doctor complaining of feeling melancholy. Later that same day, she leaped to her death from her fifth-floor apartment in Pittsburgh.
Joyce Jameson was one of the original actresses who perfected the “dumb blonde” persona in films like the Oscar-winning The Apartment and Good Neighbor Sam.
Starting off as a chorus girl on Showboat in the early 1950s, she came to be a regular in musicals and comedies, generally cast as the unintelligent, amorous, or superficial beauty. Co-starring with legends like Elvis Presley and Bob Hope, she also starred alongside such television comedians as Steve Allen, Red Skelton, and Danny Kaye. Perhaps her most famous role was as the character Skippy on The Andy Griffith Show. At times, though, she also performed in roles contrary to her typical bimbo stereotype ones, such as her ill-mannered, immoral character in Roger Corman’s 1963 Tales of Terror alongside Peter Lorre and Vincent Price.
Though she was very well-educated, sensitive, and clever in real life, she also suffered from depression. Jameson overdosed on pills in 1987 before the age of 60. Following a cremation, her ashes were scattered at sea.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Bates first came to the public’s attention after the film studio Universal International chose her with nine other girls out of a nationwide search to find beautiful and talented women to act and dance in a movie about Salome. While most of the girls never encountered screen fame, Bates ended up starring with some of the biggest names at the time, including Bette Davis and Danny Kaye. Perhaps her most recognizable role was as Phoebe in All About Eve.
However, despite a happy marriage to Cecil Coan, a film studio publicist, and roles in popular films and television shows, her personal life quickly started to fall apart. With rumors of nervous breakdowns and attempted suicides swirling around her, she stunned fans with increasingly unpredictable behavior. It was because of this behavior that she was written out of the NBC show It’s A Great Life and had her contract with the English studio Rank canceled.
After she watched her husband die of cancer in 1967, there was little keeping Bates going, especially as roles on television and film gave way to work as a nurse’s aide. Despite marrying a childhood friend a few years later, she was found dead in 1969 of carbon monoxide poisoning in her Volkswagen in their home’s garage. She was pregnant.
One of the most famous Mexican actresses of all time, Lupe Velez was aptly called “The Hot Pepper” and “The Mexican Spitfire” throughout her fiery career. After moving to California from her country of origin, she went from being a chorus girl to starring in 1927’s The Gaucho all within one year. In the 1920s alone she worked with legends Hal Roach, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Lon Chaney, to name a few. It wasn’t long before she captured the hearts of some of Hollywood’s leading men at the time, including Charlie Chaplin, Victor Fleming, and Gary Cooper.
While the careers of many other screen performers withered away with the dawn of talkies, Velez’s surged. She appeared in the 1932 film The Half-Naked Truth, which showcased her potential and skyrocketed her career in comedy in hits like Hollywood Party, where she starred alongside Laurel and Hardy.
Her career declined, however, after a brief absence from Hollywood, as she came back to find herself stereotyped, getting cast in B movies, and definitely not as hot to the public as before. Although she still got booked on Broadway and several acclaimed dramatic motion pictures, Velez found herself pregnant, unmarried, and struggling with relationship problems a few years later. In December 1944, she took an overdose of barbiturates and killed herself.
To this day, Dalida is considered one of the most popular singers who ever lived. Born in Cairo as Yolande Christina Giglioti, her rise to fame came quickly when, at the age of 21, she won the title of Miss Egypt and appeared in a film directed by the influential Egyptian filmmaker Niazi Mostafa. She later went to Paris to pursue fame and fortune, and that is where she adopted the name Dalida, a play on the biblical name and titular character in the American movie Samson and Delilah.
It was in France that Dalida was discovered as a singer, and she became a star overnight in 1956. One of her first singles, “Bambino,” sold over a million copies in Europe in just one year. Although she appeared in Italian, Egyptian, and French cinema with comedies, thrillers, and dramas, many of them acclaimed by critics, her biggest successes were in music, which she dedicated most of her time to from the 1960s onward.
Despite being internationally loved and admired, Dalida’s personal life was a mess. She suffered divorces and the suicides of two men that she loved. In May 1987 in Paris, despite being in the midst of what was looking to be a big comeback, Dalida succeeded at committing suicide by overdosing on barbiturates. She left behind a note which said, in part: “Forgive me; life is unbearable.”
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
– Patrick Rothfuss