This week certainly is off to a pretty bad start. First, we lost the great Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life after succumbing to depression. Now we’ve lost Lauren Bacall, one of the finest talents of the last century and a stalwart progressive.
“With deep sorrow for the magnitude of our loss, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall,” announced the estate of Humphrey Bogart, which is run by Bogart and Bacall’s son Stephen.
The cause of death is said to be stroke.
Bacall, eighty-nine, was a lifelong New Yorker who starred in many films now regarded as classics. She was born Betty Joan Perske on September 14th, 1924, in the Bronx, and began acting on stage at a young age.
Introduced to cinema by Howard and Nancy Hawks, she adopted the stage name Lauren Bacall and rose to fame with her role alongside Bogart in To Have and Have Not, a wartime film that was released in 1944 and loosely based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Bacall and Bogart later fell in love and married; it was Bacall’s first marriage and Bogart’s fourth. They remained together until his death in 1957.
Bacall went on to appear in several films noir, including The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo. In the 1950s, she starred in Young Man with a Horn, How to Marry a Millionaire (with Marilyn Monroe), and Written on the Wind. She developed a reputation for being choosy and turning down roles she didn’t find interesting.
Beginning in the 1960s, she had fewer film appearances and more parts in stage productions on Broadway. She won two Tony Awards for her parts in Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). She did, however, participate in the films Sex and the Single Girl, Harper, and Murder on the Orient Express during these years, sharing the screen with the likes of Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, and Ingrid Bergman. She even collaborated with John Wayne for his final film, The Shootist.
Bacall was politically active throughout her life. In the 1950s, she campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson; in the 1960s, she supported Robert Kennedy’s Senate campaign. She was also a fierce opponent of the politics of disgraced Republican Joseph McCarthy. In 2005, she gave a memorable interview to CNN’s Larry King in which she proudly identified as a liberal, remarking, “Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”
As mentioned, Bacall’s death comes just as people the world over are struggling to process Robin Williams’ sudden death.
“What a terrible loss for us all,” Barbara Streisand said in a statement mourning Bacall. “First Robin, who was a genius, and now Lauren. It was my privilege to have known her, to have acted with her, and to have directed her (in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces). And most of all, to have had her as a wise and loving friend. She was an original. Even with all those great films… she will be missed.”
“Lauren Bacall’s life is a life to be celebrated,” agreed comedian and showrunner Seth MacFarlane, who also worked with Bacall.
“I am told her last performance was on ‘Family Guy.’ For that, we are forever honored and privileged. Thank you, Lauren, for teaching us all how to whistle.”
Bacall’s body of work was recognized several years ago by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which bestowed upon her an honorary Oscar at the 2009 Governors Awards. (Video of Bacall’s acceptance speech is on YouTube).
Lauren Bacall was one of the few remaining talents left from the golden age of film. Now she’s gone. She will be greatly missed. We at NPI extend our deepest condolences to her family and close friends.