Laura Crewe
July 03, 2013

7 Silver Screen Stars Who Died Too Young

Think an “old” movie is something from 1983? It’s time to look farther back — back into the golden age of cinema.

In the 1930s and ’40s, the film industry was in its glory days. Hollywood was synonymous with opulence and style, not scandal, mega-budgets and over-the-top special effects. Actors were stars, not celebrities — glamorous, mysterious and larger than life.

Among those glamorous stars were seven talented women who had a tremendous impact on the history of film, but whose careers were cut short by tragic accidents or drug overdoses. We’ll never know what outstanding films we missed because these ladies were gone too soon.

Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard with Clark Gable

Carole Lombard with Clark Gable

1908 – 1942

Best films: Twentieth Century (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

Known for: Marrying Clark Gable, swearing like a sailor, telling crude jokes. When Clark was crowned the King of Hollywood, Carole famously quipped, “If his pee-pee was one inch shorter, they’d be calling him the Queen of Hollywood.”

Cause of death: Died in a plane crash while touring the US to promote war bonds. She was 33 years old and at the peak of her career. Clark never got over her death.

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow

1911 – 1937

Best films: The Public Enemy (1931), Dinner at Eight (1933), Libeled Lady (1936)

Known for: Her platinum blonde hair, dimpled chin and beauty mark

Cause of death: Renal failure from kidney disease at 26. Rumor has long held that Jean was denied medical treatment in her final days because her parents were Christian Scientists and didn’t believe in doctors. The truth is simpler: her kidney disease was not curable in the 1930s.

Jean was in the middle of filming Saratoga with Clark Gable when she died. The movie was finished using body doubles and some creative shooting. It was released in July 1937, six weeks after Jean died.

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge

1922 – 1965

Best films: Tarzan’s Peril (1951), Carmen Jones (1954), Porgy and Bess (1959)

Known for: Being the first black woman ever to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, for her role in Carmen Jones.

Cause of death: Accidental overdose of antidepressants. She had $2.14 in her bank account when she died. She was 43.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland as Dorothy  in The Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz

1922 – 1969

Best films: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), A Star Is Born (1954)

Known for: Her iconic role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, being Liza Minnelli’s mom

Cause of death: Overdose of barbituates, believed to be accidental. She was 47.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

1926 – 1962

Best films: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959)

Known for: Um, you do know who Marilyn Monroe is, right?

Cause of death: Barbituate overdose, which may or may not have been accidental, depending on who you believe. Marilyn’s death may or may not have also been part of a conspiracy involving JFK or the CIA or the Mafia. She was 36.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco

Grace Kelly

1929 – 1982

Best films: High Noon (1952), Dial M for Murder (1954), To Catch A Thief (1954)

Known for: Marrying the Prince of Monaco, her elegant beauty

Cause of death: Suffered a stroke while driving to Monaco and careened down a mountainside. She died in hospital the next day. Her daughter Stephanie was also in the car and survived the crash.

In his eulogy, fellow actor James Stewart had this to say: “You know, I just love Grace Kelly. Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met. Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her.”

Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield

1933 – 1967

Best films: The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Wayward Bus (1957), The Burglar (1957)

Known for: Being a blonde bombshell, her boobs

20th Century Fox signed Jayne to a six-year contract starting in 1956 in the hopes of replacing Marilyn Monroe, who by that time was spinning out. Fox promoted Jayne as “Marilyn Monroe king-sized.” Jayne also had a successful careers acting on the stage and as a model.

Cause of death: Car accident in Mississippi. Jayne was just 34 years old. Her three kids were in the backseat — all of them survived the crash.