John Sidney Blyth (February 15, 1882 – May 29, 1942), better known as John Barrymore, was an American actor of stage and screen. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III. His success continued with motion pictures in various genres in both the silent and sound eras. Barrymore's personal life has been the subject of much writing before and since his death in 1942. Today John Barrymore is known mostly for his portrayal of Hamlet and for his roles in movies like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920), Grand Hotel (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Twentieth Century (1934), and Don Juan (1926), the first feature length movie to use a Vitaphone soundtrack. The most prominent member of a multi-generation theatrical dynasty, he was the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, and was the paternal grandfather of Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore collapsed while appearing on Rudy Vallee's NBC radio show and died in his Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital room on May 29, 1942. His dying words were "Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him." Gene Fowler attributes different dying words to Barrymore in his biography Good Night, Sweet Prince. According to Fowler, John Barrymore roused as if to say something to his brother Lionel; Lionel asked him to repeat himself, and he simply replied, "You heard me, Mike."
According to Errol Flynn's memoirs, film director Raoul Walsh "borrowed" Barrymore's body before burial, and left his corpse propped in a chair for a drunken Flynn to discover when he returned home from The Cock and Bull Bar. This was re-created in the movie W.C. Fields and Me. Other accounts of this classic Hollywood tale substitute actor Peter Lorre in the place of Walsh, but Walsh himself tells the story in Richard Schickel's 1973 documentary The Men Who Made the Movies. However, Barrymore's great friend Gene Fowler denied the story, stating that he and his son held vigil over the body at the funeral home until the funeral and burial.
He was interred at Calvary Cemetery, in East L.A., on June 2. Surviving family members in attendance were his brother Lionel and his daughter Diana. Ex-wife Elaine also attended. Among his active pallbearers were Gene Fowler, John Decker, W.C. Fields, Herbert Marshall, Eddie Mannix, Louis B. Mayer, and David O. Selznick.
Barrymore had left specific instructions that he be cremated and his ashes buried next to his parents in the family plot in Philadelphia. However, as brother Lionel Barrymore and sister Ethel Barrymore were Catholic and cremation was not sanctioned by the Church at the time, the executors of his estate had Barrymore’s remains entombed at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.
In 1980, John Drew Barrymore decided to fulfill his father’s wishes and have him cremated, and recruited his son to help. They had the casket removed from its Los Angeles crypt; before the body was cremated, John Jr. insisted on having a look inside. “Thank God I’m drunk,” he told his son. “I’ll never remember it.”
Barrymore’s ashes are interred in Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Philadelphia. Engraved on his tombstone below his name is the line from Hamlet, “Alas, Poor Yorick.”