Biography of Famous Alcoholic and Actor John Barrymore

About the famous American actor and alcoholic John Barrymore, about his struggle with the disease.

JOHN BARRYMORE (1882-1942). American stage and screen actor.

John Barrymore was literally "born" to the theater. His father was a successful actor, and John, his brother Lionel, and their sister Ethel were raised by a grandmother who operated a popular theater in Philadelphia. When Lionel and Ethel chose acting careers, it was almost inevitable that John would join what was to become known as the "royal family of the theater."

"Acting, romance, and drinking occupied John Barrymore about equally," wrote Hollis Alpert in The Barrymores. John was remarkably successful at all 3: For a decade he was America's preeminent actor, setting standards of performance that some critics say have never been equaled; he was married and divorced 4 times, the 4th marriage, at 53, to a girl of 19; and he lived and died a chronic alcoholic. Gene Fowler, in his biography of Barrymore, estimates that ". . . in 40 years he consumed 640 barrels of hard liquor."

John's career began to decline in 1934 when he appeared on a movie set ". . . in so dazed and drunken a condition that he was unable to remember any of the words of his new script." Failing memory and failing health plagued him the rest of his life. His last years were spent performing roles that parodied his former greatness--when he was not in the hospital, or on extravagant trips aboard his yacht in a futile search for a "cure" for his alcoholism. He made an enormous amount of money in his lifetime, but after his death in 1942, his effects were sold at auction to satisfy his creditors.

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