BELOVED Angela Lansbury confesses she’s still devastated by her father’s death 80 years ago, as she opens up about the life-shaping events that have made her who she is today.
Known as senior super-sleuth Jessica Fletcher on the megahit CBS drama Murder, She Wrote, the 88-year-old actress still weeps when talking about her dad Edgar, who died of cancer at age 48 in 1934.
“That was the defining moment of my life,” says Lansbury. “Nothing before or since has ever affected me so deeply. It also altered the shape of my life. I became something of a dreamer, lost in my grief. I became much more interested in acting, following the example of my mother.”
With the ties to her dad’s London wood veneer company gone, Lansbury’s Irish mother, actress Moyna MacGill, moved the family to New York, then L.A.
At age 17, Lansbury earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her first film, 1944’s Gaslight. “I was wrapping Christmas gifts in a department store one minute, then playing opposite Ingrid Bergman the next,” she recalls. “It was little short of a miracle.”
Still in her teens, Lansbury’s next earth-shaking ordeal was marrying Richard Cromwell, an actor-turned-artist 15 years her senior – and, unbeknownst to her, gay. After less than a year, he fed and, says Lansbury, “I was absolutely shattered.”
Her next marriage, to agent-manager Peter Shaw, lasted 53 years until his heart failed in 2003.
Sadly, their two children, son Anthony, now 62, and daughter Deirdre, now 60, got heavily involved with drugs – and the infamous Charles Manson family.
“It started with cannabis, but moved on to heroin,” Lansbury recalls. “It pains me to say, but Deirdre was in with a crowd led by Manson.”
Lansbury saved her kids from terrible temptation by moving to County Cork, Ireland. “Anthony pulled out of his bad habits quickly,” she says. “It took Deirdre a little longer, but she eventually got married and she and her husband run an Italian restaurant in L.A.”