Spencer Bonaventure Tracy (April 5, 1900 – June 10, 1967) was an American actor, noted for his natural style and versatility. One of the major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, Tracy was nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Actor and won two, sharing the record for nominations in that category with Laurence Olivier.
Tracy discovered his talent for acting while attending Ripon College, and later received a scholarship for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He spent seven years in the theatre, working in a succession of stock companies and intermittently on Broadway. Tracy's breakthrough came in 1930, when his lead performance in The Last Mile caught the attention of Hollywood.
After a successful film debut in Up the River, Tracy was signed to a contract with Fox Film Corporation. His five years with Fox were unremarkable, and he remained largely unknown to audiences after 25 films. In 1935, Tracy joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hollywood's most prestigious studio. His career flourished with a series of hit films, and in 1937 and 1938 he won consecutive Oscars for Captains Courageous and Boys Town.
By the 1940s, Tracy was one of the studio's top stars. In 1942 he appeared with Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, beginning a popular partnership that produced nine movies over 25 years.
Tracy left MGM in 1955 and continued to work regularly as a freelance star, despite an increasing weariness as he aged. His personal life was troubled, with a lifelong struggle against alcoholism and guilt over his son's deafness. Tracy became estranged from his wife in the 1930s but never divorced, conducting a long-term relationship with Katharine Hepburn in private.
Towards the end of his life, Tracy worked almost exclusively for director Stanley Kramer. It was for Kramer that he made his last film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), completed 17 days before Tracy's death.
During his career, Tracy appeared in 75 films and developed a reputation among his peers as one of the screen's greatest actors. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Tracy as one of the top ten Hollywood legends.
As he entered his sixties, years of drinking, smoking, taking pills and being overweight left Tracy in poor health. On July 21, 1963, he was hospitalized after a severe attack of breathlessness. Doctors found that he was suffering from pulmonary edema, where fluid accumulates in the lungs due to an inability of the heart to pump properly. They also declared his blood pressure as dangerously high. From this point on Tracy remained very weak, and Hepburn moved into his home to provide constant care. In January 1965, he was diagnosed with hypertensive heart disease, and began treatment for a previously ignored diagnosis of diabetes. Tracy almost died in September 1965: a stay in the hospital following a prostatectomy resulted in his kidneys failing, and he spent the night in a coma. His recovery was described by his doctor as "a kind of miracle."
Tracy spent the majority of the next two years at home with Hepburn, living what she described as a quiet life: reading, painting and listening to music. On June 10, 1967, Tracy awakened at 3:00 am to make himself a cup of tea in his apartment in Beverly Hills, California. Hepburn described in her autobiography how she followed him to the kitchen: "Just as I was about to give [the door] a push, there was a sound of a cup smashing to the floor—then clump—a loud clump." She entered the room to find Tracy dead from a heart attack. Hepburn recalled, "He looked so happy to be done with living, which for all his accomplishments had been a frightful burden for him." MGM publicist Howard Strickling told the media that Tracy had been alone when he died, and was found by his housekeeper.
A Requiem Mass was held for Tracy on June 12 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in East Hollywood. Active pallbearers included George Cukor, Stanley Kramer, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and John Ford. Out of consideration for Tracy's family, Hepburn did not attend the funeral. Tracy was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.