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Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier, as photographed in 1939 by Carl Van Vechten
Laurence Olivier, as photographed in 1939 by Carl Van Vechten

Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM (May 22, 1907 - July 11, 1989) was an English actor and director, esteemed by many as the greatest actor of the 20th century.

Laurence Olivier was born in Dorking, Sussex. He attended the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. It was his father, a clergyman, who decided that Laurence - or Kim as the family called him - would become an actor. His stage breakthrough was in Noel Coward's Private Lives (in 1930), and in Romeo and Juliet (in 1935) alternating the roles of Romeo and Mercutio with John Gielgud. His film breakthrough was his portrayal of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights in 1939.

He was founding director (1962-1973) of the National Theatre of Great Britain.

On July 25, 1930, he married Jill Esmond , whom Olivier biographer Donald Spoto described as "a diffident lesbian." They had one son, Tarquin, and were divorced on January 29, 1940. By 1938, he had embarked on a torrid affair with Vivien Leigh, who was also married. Finally divorced by their respective spouses, they married on August 31, 1940 at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, with Katharine Hepburn as the maid of honour. They were divorced on December 2, 1960. Olivier married Joan Plowright on March 17, 1961.

Esmond named Leigh as co-respondent in her divorce on grounds of adultery. Leigh named Plowright as co-respondent in her divorce, also on grounds of adultery. Plowright said "I have always resented the comments that it was I who was the homewrecker of Larry's marriage to Vivien Leigh. Danny Kaye was attached to Larry far earlier than I," poking fun at Spoto's claim that Kaye and Olivier were lovers. He was reportedly also intimate with playwright Noel Coward.

In his book "Melting the Stone: A Journey Around My Father", Olivier and Plowright's son, Richard, described Laurence as being more interested in his work than in his children, and would actually become depressed when he didn't have a job.

Among his honours are 10 Oscar nominations. He won both Best Actor and Best Picture (as the producer) for Hamlet in 1949, and two honorary Oscars (1947, for Henry V; 1979). He was created a Knight Bachelor in 1947, and a life peer in 1970 (the first actor to be accorded this distinction) as Baron Olivier, of Brighton in the County of Sussex, and was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1981.

He died in Steyning, West Sussex, England, of complications of a neuromuscular disorder and cancer.

Lord Olivier is interred in Westminster Abbey, London, England. The Laurence Olivier Awards, organised by The Society of London Theatre , were renamed in his honour in 1984.

Fifteen years after his death, Olivier once again received star billing in a movie. Through the use of computer graphics, footage of him as a young man was integrated into the 2004 film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in which Olivier "played" the villain.


Acting appearances in London's West End

Acting appearances on Broadway

Productions on Broadway

Broadway directing credits

Movie credits

Television credits

External links

Last updated: 11-08-2004 07:50:22