The shocking tragedy that consumed Hollywood icon KATHARINE HEPBURN for decades of unendurable torment until her death.

In 1921, years before becoming a major star of the stage and screen, Kate, then 14, and her older brother Tom, 15,  had been staying in bohemian Greenwich Village with their aunt for the Easter holiday.

On the morn of their return to their Connecticut home Kate was breakfasting and their Aunt Mary was packing a lunch for the long train trip home.

Long over due to join the breakfast, Aunt Mary dispatched Katharine upstairs to the attic bedroom where brother Tom was sleeping.

She knocked repeatedly on the door and called his name.

No answer.

She swung open the door and Kate’s world turned suddenly inside as her beloved brother hung from the oak rafters – dead.

Dangling from a makeshift noose in that quiet Village attic a seeming happy Tom Hepburn, for reasons known only to himself, had committed suicide.

The trauma of that horrific instant haunted Kate for the next 80 years of her life.

 "After Tom was gone…my personality changed," Hepburn recalled years later,

"I went from being totally open to life to being closed to life. You might say ingrown, sort of like a toenail can get when your shoe is too small."

Despite Kate offering the family an explanation of a schoolboy magic stunt gone terribly awry,  the tragedy was never mentioned again.

Suicides and depression were not uncommon in the Hepburn family – both her maternal grandfather and her father’s brother had killed themselves.

And since Kate’s father considered the resulting depression of Tom’s death "a contagious disease", his memory was surgically removed from the family – photos, heirlooms and mementos of Tom disappeared from the Hepburn abode.

"It was so much more terrible because we were not just told not to talk about Tom but not to think about him," Kate divulged.

"Because no one spoke Tom’s name I pledged to Tom and myself that he would live in my heart and mind as long as I lived.

"I decided I had to live my life for two. It was the only way I could keep my brother alive."

Kate claimed his birthday for her own, began cropping her hair short, wearing men’s slacks and took on a tomboy-ish appearance that was to become her personal trademark for the rest of her life.