Vivien Leigh Cause of Death: Southern Belles Actress Died After a Bout With Tuberculosis

Vivien Leigh won two Academy Awards for her roles as the sassy Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” and Blanch DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She is best known for playing smart Southern belles. Leigh, a relatively unknown British beauty, was chosen for the lead part in the Civil War drama over more established stars like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. “She is so perfectly designed for the part by art and nature,” wrote Frank E. Nugent in a The New York Times review, “that any other actress in the role would be inconceivable.”

Vivien Leigh Cause of Death

Leigh married London barrister Herbert Leigh Holman when she was 19 years old, delaying the start of her acting career until after she had completed her studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. As a result of the marriage, a daughter was born, and the actress adopted the stage name, Vivien Leigh, with the first name spelled as Vivian.

In 1935, she debuted on stage in “The Bash” and later on screen in “Things Are Looking Up,” as documented by The Royal Philatelic Society of London.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, she met Laurence Olivier while they were both in London performing in “The Mask of Virtue” in 1936.

Though he was also married then, their meeting on the set of the 1937 film “Fire Over England” led to an affair. After splitting up in their respective marriages, they remarried in 1940 and became a Hollywood power couple for the next two decades before finally separating.

vivien leigh cause of death
vivien leigh cause of death

Despite her popularity, many don’t know Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder, which often impacted her work.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, her secretary Sunny Lash wrote to Olivier during the filming of GWTW, “Several times I feared she was going nuts.”

“She had warned me once that someday she would, and I was beginning to believe that time had come.”

IMDb claims that the film won eight Academy Awards, and Guinness World Records confirms that it set a new standard for box office success upon its release. According to Viv and Larry, when rehearsing “Caesar and Cleopatra” in 1944, Leigh fainted and had a miscarriage. Leigh finished the movie, but she didn’t go to the premiere. She didn’t watch it for years. After the incident, Leigh had depression and insomnia, according to Mental Floss.

According to Marie Claire magazine, Leigh sought relief from electroshock therapy after experiencing a horrible loss, her disorder, and a respiratory issue later diagnosed with tuberculosis.

The role of Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” did nothing to improve her health. “Blanche is a woman with everything stripped away,” Mental Floss quotes her as saying. “She is a tragic figure, and I understand her. But playing her tipped me into madness.”

According to her obituary in The New York Times, Leigh passed away in 1967 at 53 from TB, which she had suffered from since 1945. She was at the time preparing for her West End debut in the play “A Delicate Balance.”

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