Errol Flynn (1909–1959)
The dashing Errol Flynn was one of Hollywood's darlings in the 1930s and 1940s. Hugely popular for his stunning looks and infectious charisma, he was one of Hollywood's highest paid stars of the time. While his roles in costume adventures thrilled audiences, his antics off screen created equal, if not as adoring, attention. By the late 1950s the actor's wild lifestyle and poor financial choices had left him in ruin.
Born in Tasmania in 1909, Flynn had trouble focusing on academics in school, much preferring athletics, and wound up being expelled from several prominent schools. At fifteen, he found work as a shipping clerk and thus began a litany of jobs including sailor, prospector, writer, and manager of a tobacco plantation. Acting was not on his agenda until 1933, when an Australian film producer who had seen Flynn's picture proposed casting him in the low-budget docudrama Wake of the Bounty. The following year he went to London to pursue his new passion. In 1935 he landed a contract with Warner Brothers and languished in bit parts until his big break came when Robert Donat walked out on the lead in Captain Blood. The role shot him to stardom and he went on to star in blockbusters such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Charge of the Light Brigade, and Dodge City. He married actress Lili Damati and the couple had one son, Sean. (Sean Flynn also became an actor but then changed his career to journalism. A correspondent in the Vietnam War, Sean disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 and was presumed dead.)
Marriage and family did not change Flynn's wild ways, and his excesses kept the studio's damage control apparatus working overtime. In 1942 he was charged with statutory rape involving two teenage girls. The actor emerged not only unscathed, but also more popular than ever. The incident inspired the slang expression "in like Flynn." He divorced Damati that same year. In 1949 he starred in The Adventures of Don Juan, but his hard living had taken its toll. His behavior became erratic, and he suffered short-term memory loss. He divorced his second wife, Nora Eddington, and married Patrice Wymore the following year. Success was elusive, and in the mid-1950s he lost his entire fortune in an attempt to create a film about William Tell.
Flynn regained some popularity in the late 1950s, when he starred in The Sun Also Rises, The Roots of Heaven, and Too Much, Too Soon. In 1959, at the age of 50, Flynn died of heart failure.