Death Information

Farewell, Miss Leigh

Date of Death: July 7, 1967

1. July 12, 1967, 10am @ St. Mary’s, Cadogan Street, London
2. August 15, 1967, 11am @ the Royal Parish Church of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields
3. March 17, 1968, “An Appreciation of Vivien Leigh” at the University of Southern California
4. Requiem mass held in NY, organized by Paula Laurence
5. Requiem mass held in Staten Island, organized by Radie Harris

Vivien was cremated at Golders Green & her ashed strewn over the lake at Tickerage Mill on October 8, 1967. Gertrude, Leigh, Suzanne, Jack, and Bumble were in attendance. Cynthia Holt writes: “In the house, Suzanne could still smell the lingering scent of her mother’s perfume, and Jack walked through the woods Vivien loved so much and made note of the various plant species she placed in the ground with her own hands- aconites, anemones, and bluebells.”

The Scene:

Near the end of May 1967, Vivien fell ill. Vivien refused to go to the hospital, so instead, she remained at her Eaton Square flat under the supervision of a doctor and Jack Merivale, her live-in boyfriend. Vivien’s secretary, Rosemary Geddes, remembers Vivien’s condition:

“She got dreadfully thin, and she had this cough and I can remember saying a few times: ‘Now do you think your old trouble’s starting up again?’ And she said, ‘Oh no, no, no’ because she was terrified of illness. Of course it was and she was ill for quite a while before anybody cottoned on. Until she literally collapsed they thought it was flu. Even then she had to get dressed to go down for her chest X-Ray in Harley Street. Of course when they saw the X-Rays and how ill she was, that’s when she should have gone to hospital. It was all very fast really. It was so tragic because you felt it never need have happened.”

In fact, her tuberculosis had returned, and it produced a large hole in her lung. She was ordered to rest in bed, but Vivien was not a model patient. She continued to work on her postponed play, A Delicate Balance, continued to smoke, and continued to host throngs of visitors. Jack Merivale describes the scene: “Her friends and her friendships were as important in her life as almost anything else, except her real loves. As time went on and she got weaker, I tried to ration them. She still went on smoking. I simply couldn’t stop her. I had no notion she was going to die. I thought she got weaker because she had been so long in bed. When friends popped in to see her I said, ‘try not to stay longer than ten minutes, quarter of an hour.’ On the whole they were very good about limiting their time. She had Poo Jones with her, of course.”

Gwen Robyns, author of a Vivien Leigh biography titled Light of a Star, describes Vivien’s farewell to the world in her book: “This exhausted, fragile little body had been unable to fight to live any longer. It seems ironic that one of the world’s great beauties who spent a lifetime surrounding herself with people should be alone when she died.

Vivien had always loved her rose-filled bedroom which she had transformed into a bower. The walls were entirely hung with white chintz splashed with bright pink old-fashioned roses.

Over the large bed flowed canopied curtains of the same chintz, with filmy linings of white and pale pink nylon. Her favourite pictures hung on silk cords against the folds of chintz on the walls – the samll Berthe Moreset, a sketch by Augustus John, a tiny Cellini drawing and a vase of roses which Sir Winston Churchill had painted specially for her.

All the last week Vivien filled her life with people. The day before she died she was rehearsing her part with Michael Redgrave in the Edward Albee play A Delicate Balance scheduled to open in August. She was convinced that she would be well enough for the opening night and that the play would not have to be postponed again.”

Vivien’s mother, Gertrude, visited the actress on July 4. It would be their last meeting as mother and daughter. Cynthia Holt describes Vivien’s last day:

“On July 7, Vivien watched the Wimbledon men’s finals on television with Jack, who then left for the theatre for his evening performance. On his arrival, he phoned her to see how she was doing. Though she sounded weak, she mentioned Poo Jones was nearby. Believing all was well at Eaton Square, Jack stopped by a pub to have a drink on his way home. Arriving at the apartment at 11pm, he noticed Vivien was asleep in her bedroom, the cat lying beside her on the bed, and everything seemed to be in order. The letters Rosemary left for Vivien to sign were finished and ready to be mailed. Leaving her to go into the kitchen to heat himself some soup, Jack checked on Vivien at 11:30pm, and discovered she had fallen to the floor. His attempts to resuscitate her were in vain, and he hastily phoned the doctor and Bumble Dawson…When he doctor arrived, he confirmed Vivien’s death.”

Although the plain medical facts of Vivien Leigh’s death was tuberculosis, her friends still tend to romanticise. ‘Everything finished for her the day Laurence Olivier left. She had never accepted the divorce,’ Sir Michael Redgrave, who had known her for 30 years, recalls. Her neighbour and friend for many years, Lady Audley (Sarah Churchill) says wistfully: ‘She folded her wings and turned her face to the wall.’

Vivien Leigh’s estate totaled £ 252,681 pounds gross. After a duty of £ 41,429, £ 152,573 was left (considered several million today) and most of which went to Suzanne. £ 6,000 went to Jack. He lived in Eaton Square until October 1967 and then moved in with his actress mother. In addition, Vivien left £ 12,000 worth of pictures, jewelry and furniture to her close friends. Tickerage Mills, after being burglarized, sold quickly for £ 40,000. Vivien’s beloved cat Poo Jones was cared for by Mrs. Mac, Vivien’s housekeeper. When Mrs. Mac died, Poo Jones spent the remainder of his cat life with Peter Hiley, the man who was in charge of Vivien’s business affairs.

The Memorial Service:

The service consisted of a brief prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (see below), a transcription of fourteen lines from a mystical elegy of John Donne, and Handel’s ‘I Know that my Redeemer Liveth.’ Read John Gielgud heart-felt words here. Gwen Robyns writes, “Twenty minutes before the service was due to begin the vast church was almost full. One hour before the service began Sir Laurence Olivier slipped in alone at the back of the church. In the gloom shorter than his stage image, few people recognized him as he sheltered by a pillar and stood beside an old friend, Ginette Spanier. Leigh Holman, Vivien’s first husband who had loved her from the day he first saw her in 1932, accompanied their daughter, Suzanne, Mrs. Robin Farrington, and Vivien’s mother, Gertrude Hartley. Beside them were the two small boys who gravely called this great star ‘grandmama.’”

officiated by: Rev. Austen Williams
lesson read by: Sir John Clements
prayer read by: Lady Redgrave
reading by: Emlyn Williams
singing: Michael Deason-Barrow
eulogy: Sir Joh Gielgud

Make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon; where
there is doubt, faith; where there is
despair, hope; where there is darkness,
light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master
Grant that I may not so much seek to be
consoled as to console; to be understood
as to understand; to be loved as to love;
For it is only in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is
in dying that we are born to eternal life.