Laurence Olivier

A Legendary Artist

One of the greatest English actors who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century, known for his many Shakespearean roles on stage and screen.

One of the finest classical actors, Sir Laurence Kerr Olivier was also a director, producer and radio broadcaster who had a booming stage career with almost 120 roles appearing in nearly 60 films. He appeared in 15 television productions – all of which were huge hits.

Sir Laurence Olivier received numerous awards and honors including, a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy in 1979. He was knighted by King George VI and later made Baron Olivier of Brighton by Queen Elizabeth II, who also awarded him the Order of Merit.

On July 11, 1989, Sir Laurence Olivier passed away at his home in West Sussex, England, aged 82. He is one of the few actors to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s esteemed Poet’s Corner.

Name:   Laurence  Olivier
Born:   22 May 1907
Star Sign: Gemini
Died:   11 July 1989
Birthplace: Dorking, Surrey
Country: England
DetailsOther Names
Larry, Kim, Kerr, Baron Olivier of Brighton
Revd. Gerard Kerr Olivier
Agnes Louise, nee Crookenden
Joan Plowright - married in 17 March 1961 - until his death Vivien Leigh - married in 31 August 1940 - divorced in 6 January 1961 Jill Esmond - married in 25 July 1930 - divorced in 29 January 1940 had Tarquin
Tarquin Olivier, Tamsin Olivier, Richard Olivier, Julie Kate Olivier

Laurence Kerr Olivier, was born on May 22, 1907 in Dorking, Southern England to a strict Anglican minister, Gerard Kerr Olivier and Agnes Louise. He was the youngest of three children and the apple of his mother’s eye. In 1920, at the age of 12 his mother died of a brain tumor and he was devastated.

Despite his father's strictness, Larry was encouraged by his father to pursue an acting career after seeing his talent in a Shakespearean play. Larry gained a scholarship and enrolled in the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Early acting career
In 1916, Olivier passed the singing examination for admission to All Saints Choir School, in Central London. In 1917, Olivier's performance as Brutus in a school production impressed the audience. He then attended St. Edward’s school in Oxford where he took part in school drama productions.

In 1926, Olivier joined the Birmingham Repertory Company, but left the company two years later. He was offered a role in the play - 'Bird in Hand' and starred opposite actress, Jill Esmond.

Romeo and Juliet
In 1930, Olivier starred in Noel Coward’s 'Private Lives' together with Jill Esmond. Noel Coward became Olivier's mentor and introduced him into the high society. Olivier rose quickly from spear-carrier to leading man and soon moved to London's West End.

Olivier and John Gielgud alternated playing Romeo and Mercutio in the production of 'Romeo and Juliet' which broke all box-office records, running for 189 performances. The two actors whose styles clashed remained lifelong rivals.

Hollywood Rising star
During the early 1930s, Olivier rapidly became a stage star in London and New York. In 1937, he appeared alongside Vivien Leigh in the historical drama 'Fire Over England.' They soon began a passionate romance. Olivier was becoming a Hollywood movie star. In 1940, Olivier starred with Joan Fontaine in 'Rebecca' directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Classic Roles
In 1941, Olivier starred with Vivien Leigh in the historical film drama, 'That Hamilton Woman'. Both Olivier and Leigh told their respective spouses about their affair and Olivier moved out of the marital home. Olivier's marriage to Vivien Leigh only heightened his American celebrity.

In 1938, Olivier accepted the part of Heathcliff in 'Wuthering Height' with Merle Oberon and later in the 1940, 'Pride and Prejudice' as Fitzwilliam Darcy with Greer Garson.

Shakespeare Roles
War had broken out in Europe. During World War II, Olivier served in the Royal Navy and narrated short pieces of the film '49th Parallel' for the Ministry of Information. In 1944, Olivier returned to the screen and starred in the film version of Shakespeare's 'Henry V,' - a triumph that earned him a special Oscar.

He also starred in other notable Shakespeare roles on screen which included, 'Hamlet' in 1948 and 'Richard III' in 1955. Olivier starred in the title role in the 1964, 'Othello' and as Shylock in 'The Merchant of Venice' in 1970.

Film and Television Roles
From 1963 to 1973 Olivier was the founding director of Britain's National Theatre - a resident company that fostered many future stars. He later performed in films such as: '"Sleuth'" in 1972; 'Marathon Man' in 1976 and 'The Boys from Brazil' in 1978.

In 1960, Olivier television appearances included an adaptation of 'The Moon and Sixpence'; 'Long Day's Journey into Night'; 'Love Among the Ruins'; 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and 'King Lear' (1983).

Recognition and Awards
Olivier received recognition and honours for his notable contribution to the entertainment industry which included: a knighthood in 1947; a life peerage in 1970; and the Order of Merit in 1981. He received four Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards.

The National Theatre's largest auditorium is named in his honour, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards, given annually by the Society of London Theatre.

Sir Olivier's Legacy
Sir Laurence Olivier, possessed a multi-dimensional persona, reflecting several facets of acting. He had a booming stage career with almost 120 roles and appeared in nearly 60 films. He appeared in 15 television productions - all of which were huge hits. Despite being honored and dubbed, Baron Olivier of Brighton with the membership of the 'House of the Lords' he was always ‘Larry’ to his friends and colleagues.

Marriage and family .
Laurence Olivier was married three times. He married actresses Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940, then Vivien Leigh from 1940 to 1960. He married Joan Plowright from 1961 until his death. He had four children - his son Tarquin with Jill Esmond; and three children - Richard, Tamsin and Julie Kate with Joan Plowright.

Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was often regarded as the supreme actor of his generation.

When presenting at the Oscars in 1985, he forgot to name the Best Picture nominees. He simply opened the envelope and proclaimed, "Amadeus"

He was nominated for an Emmy in 1974, in the same category, for two different 1973 performances- James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Even with his royal titles, he refused to carry on a conversation with anyone who wouldn't address him as "Larry".

His father, a clergyman, decided Laurence would become an actor.

His ancestors were originally from France, they fled to England around the 17th century. The reason being they were Protestants known as Huguenots who were treated badly by the Catholics.

He and Roberto Benigni are the only two actors to have directed themselves in Oscar winning performances.

Olivier wrote that his father knew “when to drop the voice, when to bellow about the perils of hellfire, when to slip in a gag, when suddenly to wax sentimental …

Olivier never won a ‘performance’ Olivier Award having made his last stage appearance three years before the awards were founded. But he was given the Special Award in 1979.

The oldest recipient of an Olivier Award is Angela Lansbury, who picked up her first Larry in 2015 at the age of 89.

"Acting is a masochistic form of exhibitionism. It is not quite the occupation of an adult."

"I believe that in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, a great theater is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture."

"I don't know what is better than the work that is given to the actor-to teach the human heart the knowledge of itself."

"Don't waste your time striving for perfection; instead, strive for excellence - doing your best."

"Have a very good reason for everything you do."

"Use your weaknesses; aspire to the strength."

"No matter how well you perform, there's always somebody of intelligent opinion who thinks it's lousy."

"Acting is illusion, as much illusion as magic is, and not so much a matter of being real."

"Above all, you must remain open and fresh and alive to any new idea."

"Acting is an everlasting search for truth."


Sir Laurence Olivier died on July 11, 1989, at his home in West Sussex, England. He is one of the few actors buried in Westminster Abbey's esteemed Poet's Corner. The honor is fitting for the youngest actor to be knighted at age 40, by King George VI, and the first to be elevated to the peerage in 1970, by Queen Elizabeth II.

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