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John Barrymore’s Final Years Were Downright Humiliating

John Barrymore was a legendary Hollywood actor that started out in the era of silent films and managed to be just as successful when films with sound were introduced. This made John stand out from many of his silent-film contemporaries, though the actor wouldn’t have such great luck later in his life. As a result of alcoholism, John suffered greatly in the later years of his life and died a shell of his former self. In the years leading up to his death, the actor had become a parody of the man that he used to be. Join Facts Verse as we explore how John Barrymore’s final years were downright humiliating.

John Barrymore’s Early Life

John Barrymore was born in Philadelphia towards the end of the 19th century. It was on February 15, 1882, to be exact, and John was the youngest child born into a show-business family. The future star’s parents were a couple of stage actors by the names of Maurice and Georgina Drew. Maurice and Georgina used the name “Barrymore” as a stage name, and this is how the name came to John. John was the youngest of three siblings, with the young man having an older brother and an older sister. These older siblings were named Ethel and Lionel, respectively. Like John, both of these siblings would eventually follow in their parents’ footsteps and become performers. Both Ethel and Lionel found some success in Hollywood, though John was inarguably the one who found the most out of the three.

Given that both of their parents were actors, it should come as no surprise that Maurice and Georgina’s three children should begin showing proclivities for performing at a young age. The three Barrymore kids would put on plays at home, with the older siblings playing the protagonists and young John playing the villain. John never minded being forced into the villainous role, as it allowed him to flex his young acting muscles in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Perhaps this is why John ended up finding more success as an actor than his two siblings.

In 1893, when John was only 11 years old, his mother passed away. Their father, who was often away performing in touring productions, then raised John and his siblings alone. When their father was out touring, John and his siblings could be found in the care of relatives. John continued dreaming of becoming an actor, but a darkness was growing inside the burgeoning young man that would begin to show it’s head during his teenage years.

John Showed His First Signs of Hedonism as a Teenager

During his teenage years, John Barrymore attended a prestigious preparatory school in Maryland. In 1898, when John was 16 years old, he was expelled from the school. The reason given for John’s expulsion was that the young man had snuck into a brothel. This would be the first hint that there was something different about John’s behavior. Though the young man would go on to find success over the course of his life, he would eventually be done in by his own hedonism.

John Barrymore turned 18 just after the turn of the century, and that was also the same year that he made his acting debut. John’s acting debut came in a play by the name of A Man of the World, which was directed by his father. Though John was flirting with becoming an actor, he still had other dreams. He decided that he wanted to become an artist, which led him to attend the Art Student League in New York City. Following this, John could be found working for a brief period of time as an artist drawing sketches for the New York Evening Journal. After a while, however, John ended up deciding that acting ran too deep in his veins.

Following his debut in 1900, John Barrymore returned to the stage in 1903 with a much more prominent role in a production by the name of Magda. John premiered in the play in October of 1903. The play ran in Chicago. Following this successful tenure, John went on to tour the country in a variety of productions, all the while increasing his profile.

Around the time that John was just starting to make it big as an actor on the stage, he had to witness the tragic downfall of his father. John’s father had a mental breakdown on the stage, which led to him being institutionalized. Once institutionalized, it was revealed that John’s father was suffering from syphilis. Not long afterwards, he passed away. The death of John’s father came in 1905. John’s father wouldn’t be around to see his youngest son become a big Hollywood star, and he also wouldn’t be around to see him follow in his footsteps by having a tragic downfall of his own. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

John Watched His Father Have a Public Breakdown

John Barrymore was in the audience when his father had his aforementioned mental breakdown on the stage, though he was in London when his father passed away. John had travelled to London to broaden his horizons as a stage actor, and he ended up doing so by acting in numerous prominent productions of Shakespeare plays. John ended up returning to America in 1906. With his newfound acting experience, the actor quickly took Broadway by storm.

John Barrymore had numerous successes on Broadway during his early career, with one of the most notable being his role in 1909’s The Fortune Hunter. However, John soon realized that his future didn’t lie on the stage, but in the burgeoning film industry. John’s aforementioned older brother Lionel got into the film industry in 1911. John quickly followed in his older brother’s footsteps, with the actor making his debut on the screen in 1914. This screen debut came via a production by the name of An American Citizen. The next year, John was given the chance to reprise a Broadway role from a decade prior in 1915’s The Dictator.

When World War I came around, John attempted to serve but was prohibited from doing so on account of the actor suffering from varicose veins. This didn’t hurt the actor’s credibility much, as he continued to be one of the most popular stars in the relatively new film industry. As John became a major star in silent films, he also continued acting on the stage. However, the actor would eventually decide that he wanted to dedicate the majority of his time to films. John’s main reason for doing so was that films didn’t require him to tour. The actor’s gradual transition from stage star to film star was solidified during the 1920s. During that decade, the star could be found appearing in such silent classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Sherlock Holmes.

John Survived the Introduction of Talkies

Most silent-film actors were forced into retirement once films started incorporating sounds, as they didn’t have the voices to match their physical demeanors. This wasn’t the case for John, who ended up becoming more popular than ever once talkies became the new norm. Sadly, this success didn’t last. Following John’s performance in the hit 1930 film Moby Dick, the actor was relegated to supporting roles over the course of the remaining 1930s. Still, the films that John appeared in over the course of the decade were well-received productions. It wouldn’t be until later that John’s career would really turn sour, and that was as a result of the actor’s alcohol abuse.

Ever since that incident with the brothel during his teenage years, John Barrymore remained a man who enjoyed seeking pleasure. As an adult, John turned to the bottle and never turned away. By the late 1930s, John was drinking far more often than he was working. The once good-looking celebrity gradually grew to resemble a potato, as his body bloated and his face hardened. Around this time, it was said that the actor’s memory had deteriorated so significantly that he needed cue cards in order to remember lines from plays that he had performed hundreds of times.

Some actors in John Barrymore’s position would’ve chosen to remain out of the spotlight and fade away with some semblance of dignity. However, John chose to let the public see just how much his years of alcohol abuse had destroyed his body. John attempted to remain in the spotlight until his dying days, and his last years saw him doing some pretty humiliating things.

The End of John’s Life Was Humiliating

Some of the many humiliating things that John Barrymore could be found doing in the years leading up to his death included making a public spectacle of himself on the stage and on the radio, as well as appearing in low-budget schlock. John returned to the stage in 1939, with the actor appearing in a production by the name of My Dear Children. The production certainly found it’s audience, though the audience was there for the wrong reason. Instead of being interested in the play itself, the audience was interested in seeing John struggle to maintain his semblance of sanity. The actor couldn’t remember any of his lines and was forced to ad-lib the majority of each performance.

On the radio, John Barrymore could be found making a fool of himself on The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, which was a radio show hosted by Rudy Vallee. These appearances showed that John had a sense of humor about his dwindling celebrity status, though that didn’t make the whole situation any less humiliating. Finally, John made an appearance in a schlocky 1941 comedy by the name of Playmates before passing away in 1942. To make matters worse, John’s corpse ended up being stolen by one of his old buddies. At least, that’s allegedly what happened!

According to famous granddaughter Drew Barrymore, some legendary performers stole John Barrymore’s body from the morgue. These performers were W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn, and Sadakichi Hartmann. The legendary performers stole John’s body so that they could throw one last poker party with the man. Given that John had been a walking corpse for a number of years leading up to his death, the three actors likely couldn’t tell the difference!

Though John Barrymore had a respectable early career, he ended up being a Hollywood laughing stock during the last few years of his life. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that John Barrymore drank so much that he needed cue cards to remember his lines, and that his famous granddaughter Drew Barrymore claims that his body was stolen from the morgue by a trio of performers that included W.C. Fields? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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