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September 30, 2021

Katharine Hepburn’s Brother’s Death Darkened Her Entire Life & Might Have Fueled Lesbian Rumors Over the Years

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Hepburn was a free-thinker growing up and had a promising future ahead of her, but the loss of her brother Tom not only changed her as a person but her career and sexuality as well.

Katharine Hepburn was born to Katharine Martha Houghton and Thomas Norval Hepburn in Connecticut, and she was one of the six Hepburn children. The Hepburn kids were encouraged to exercise their freedom of speech and be free-thinkers. 

Later on in life, she would be known to exude a spirited and headstrong characteristic that seemed to match the roles she always played on-screen, and yet she carried with her the pain of a loss she suffered when she was only a teenager.

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THE TRAGIC LOSS

Growing up, Hepburn was always close to her brother Tom, and they would always enjoy outdoor activities such as tennis, golf, wrestling, riding, running, and swimming together. 

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However, her childhood was soon cut short when at 13, she walked into a relative's house and found her 15-year-old brother, Tom, hanging from the attic beams, having allegedly hung himself.

The Hepburn family insisted that Tom's unfortunate death had been a result of an experiment gone wrong, and Hepburn often wondered how the brother she'd known all her life could experiment with a curtain around his neck.

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She felt that the people who had known Tom knew he would not commit suicide, and yet she spent the rest of her life wondering if knowing Tom's reasons for taking his own life could've eased her pain. 

The tragedy hit Hepburn so badly it changed her perspective on life and pre-maturely thrust her into the tides of adulthood that she was inadequately prepared for.

Up until she passed on in 2003, she never did get over the tragedy which affected her life in so many aspects. Her entire life suffered a drastic change, and she swore to live her life honoring her late brother.

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In a sad twist of fate, Hepburn's father did not allow the kids to mourn their brother and even moved out of the neighborhood in a bid to keep them from thinking about him. 

Hepburn recalls her father telling them not to think or talk about him. She says he acted as if Tom had never been part of the family. Everyone adhered to the rules, well, except for Hepburn. She wrote in her autobiography:

"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... The real date of his death would not be until the day I died."

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HOW TOM'S DEATH CHANGED HEPBURN

Soon after she lost her dear brother, Hepburn adopted his birthday and used it as her own. It was not until she wrote her autobiography that people discovered the November 8th birthday she had always appropriated as hers was, in fact, Tom's.

She shaved off her hair and began dressing and behaving like a boy. She became moody, nervous and grew extensively suspicious of people around her. She became shy and could not play with other children her age.

At the time, she had been attending Oxford School, but unable to handle the pain that came with having to tell and retell the story of her brother's death, she dropped out and had to be tutored privately. 

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Tom, as she would come to admit later, was the most important person in her life, and him leaving without at least a goodbye hurt Hepburn deeply. She could not believe that he had planned his exit without thinking of her. She wrote:

"Tom's death was the end of my childhood. The death of my brother changed me forever."

HER THREE-DECADE-LONG AFFAIR WITH SPENCER TRACY

It was the tragic loss of her brother that would see Hepburn become a force in the acting industry. She learned to become relentless, proud, and strong, characteristics that suited her on-screen characters perfectly.

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Soon after dipping her foot in the acting world, she met Spencer Tracy. Tracy was a womanizer and a drunk, and her savior instincts kicked in.

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She spent her time in the relationship working for him, feeding him, waiting on him, and ensured he always felt comfortable, safe, and happy, which in essence, she would have loved to do for her brother. 

She felt that despite being unable to save her brother from himself, perhaps she would save Tracy, and thus the nearly three-decade-long affair begun. 

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Their love story was as complicated as it was interesting. The two starred in countless films together, including "Woman of the Year" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Hepburn claimed she was in love with Tracy, but Tracy was a married man with two children, and even though he had long been separated from his wife, his catholic beliefs barred him from divorcing her and marrying Hepburn

It was not until later on that Scotty Bowers, an ex-hustler, disclosed that Hepburn and Spencer were never lovers and did not have any romantic relationship at all. 

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COVERING UP THEIR SEXUALITY

Owing to the loss suffered during her childhood, Hepburn had become a headstrong woman, never needing a man's assistance, and for that, she was often labeled a lesbian.

Tracy, on the other hand, was a homosexual, and his sexual orientation is believed to have been the cause of his prolonged alcoholism and depression. 

In his 2018 documentary, Bowers revealed that he had been good friends with Hepburn and had, on multiple occasions, fixed her up with over 150 female sexual partners in the course of close to four decades.

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He also claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Tracy and remembers that Tracy always drunk himself to a stupor before engaging in any sexual activities with him, or any other man for that matter.

While Hepburn's and Tracy's relationship may have been a cover-up, they sure did have incomparable chemistry, both on and off-screen. They had an affection for each other that lasted the rest of their lives.

When Tracy passed on in 1967, Hepburn was by his side. Up until her death, Hepburn maintained a close relationship with her family and never once disclosed the details of her relationship with Tracy. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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