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Silver screen legend Vivien Leigh’s beauty and immeasurable talent were only overshadowed by the devastating mental health problems that plagued her adult life.
Bewitching in roles as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” and Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, the British-born siren barely concealed a tormented dark side that drove her into insane asylums.
According to author Kendra Bean in the new book, “Vivien Leigh, An Intimate Portrait", the Oscar winner once confessed, ‘I was quite raving mad – ready for a lunatic asylum.”
And Leigh’s iconic role as Scarlett further loosened her fragile grip on sanity.
Long days of shooting left the actress emotionally and physically exhausted and she was already unhappy over being separated from her secret lover, married actor Laurence Olivier. The pair left their respective spouses and wed in 1940.
While flming “Caesar and Cleopatra” in 1945, Leigh became pregnant with Olivier’s child.
Determined to do her own stunts, she slipped and lost the baby.
“Her miscarriage sent her into a state of depression, and the uncanny mood swings she had been experiencing sporadically for some time now seemed to occur with more frequency,” the author writes.
Still, Leigh accepted the role of Blanche in 1951’s “Streetcar”. Her co-star Marlon Brando noticed that “her mind began to wobble and her sense of self became vague.”
When Olivier found her sitting on a hotel bed uncontrollably crying, he made the decision to seek psychiatric help.
She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hysteria but refused further treatment.
Leigh’s big psychotic breakdown came in early 1953 when actor friend David Niven found her at home walking around nude and hallucinating.
She sat watching a blank TV screen, occasionally laughing, then screaming with fear.
In March 1953, Olivier arranged to place his troubled wife at Netherne Hospital, a mental asylum just south of London.
“Vivien was put on a prolonged sleep regimen consisting of barbiturate-induced unconsciousness during which she received multiple doses of electroconvulsive therapy,” writes Bean.
Olivier eventually took her back to their home, but unable to cope with Leigh’s psychosis, the couple divorced in 1960.
Leigh was found dead on the floor of her bedroom on July 8, 1967 after suffering a recurrence of tuberculosis.
She was only 53.