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Tragic Destiny of Gregory Peck's Sons: Hard Addiction, Divorce and One That Took His Own Life

Joe Akins
Oct 07, 2021
08:30 A.M.
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Gregory Peck ruled the movie industry as its leading man from the 1940s to the '60s and was widely remembered for his many larger-than-life roles, but his sons faced different tragedies, and one ended in suicide.

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These days, names like Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and others dominate the movie industry, but there was once an era when Gregory Peck was every fan’s delight, and he literally held the world in his hands.

Peck’s fame began in the '40s and well into the '60s before other stars rose to share in his shine. Even though it has been many decades since he acted, Peck is widely considered one of the many who brought Hollywood to its feet.

Picture of actor Gregory Peck | Photo: Getty Images

Picture of actor Gregory Peck | Photo: Getty Images

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While Peck’s career was untouchable, his personal life had a tone of sadness attached to it. From many failed relationships to having sons who could not replicate his success, the legendary icon’s children suffered tragic fates.

MEET THE LEGENDARY GREGORY PECK

Peck was born on April 5, 1916, in La Jolla, California, but growing up, the actor suffered his first tragedy as his parents divorced when he was only three years old. Peck was raised by his maternal grandmother.

Peck’s passion for acting started after he graduated from high school and enrolled in the pre-med program at the University of California, Berkeley. While studying to become a doctor, the young Peck realized his true call.

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Portrait of Gregory Peck circa 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gregory Peck circa 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

After his graduation in 1939, Peck abandoned plans of becoming a practicing doctor and moved to New York in pursuit of an acting career. While there, Peck won a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied with the famous instructor, Sanford Meisner.

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PECK'S CAREER

His career was not always glamorous and as a result, he had to work several odd jobs to make ends meet. It was in 1942 that he made his Broadway debut in the unsuccessful film “Morning Star.”

Despite the poor reception of the film, Peck gained exposure and began to gain more roles. Also, he walked down the aisle for the first time with his first wife, Greta Kukkonen, with whom he would have three children before their divorce in 1954.

Portrait of Gregory Peck in 1945 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gregory Peck in 1945 | Photo: Getty Images

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His first Hollywood film, “Days of Glory,” was in 1944; he played a Russian guerrilla fighter. The role kickstarted Peck’s career, and soon bigger scripts came calling. He soon landed a role in “The Keys of the Kingdom,” where he played a missionary priest. The film earned Peck his first Academy Award nominations.

In the years that followed, more awards and nominations came knocking on his door as he continued to exert himself as the leading man of the time. His tough boy looks and admirable talent made it difficult for directors to overlook Peck for the big roles.

The '40s and '50s were doubtlessly the best moments of his career, and the highlight would be acting in Alfred Hitchcock's “Spellbound,” “Twelve O'Clock High,” which earned him his fourth Oscar nomination, and the 1953 romantic comedy “Roman Holiday.”

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Gregory Peck on the set of the 1958 Western "The Big Country" | Photo: Getty Images

Gregory Peck on the set of the 1958 Western "The Big Country" | Photo: Getty Images

Peck's most popular and successful role was in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a 1962 film based on Harper Lee's popular 1960 novel of the same name. Peck finally received his first Academy Award for his famous performance as Atticus Finch.

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Peck featured in films spanning a wide range of genres during the following several decades, cementing his status as a Hollywood A-lister. The 1962 masterpiece “Cape Fear,” and the blockbuster horror film “The Omen,” are just a few of the highlights of the roles he played.

Peck was noted for portraying characters with strong moral values throughout his Hollywood career. He was a superb performer who received high appreciation from critics and viewers alike.

Portrait of Gregory Peck in 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gregory Peck in 1950 | Photo: Getty Images

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Aside from his acting career, Peck had other interests. He was also a political figure who had a strong presence in the politics of the late 40s.

Using his platform as an actor, he challenged the House Un-American Activities Committee and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1969 for his lifelong commitment to humanitarian concerns.

JONATHAN’S SUICIDE

Despite having a long and fruitful career as an actor, Peck faced his fair share of struggle and danger throughout his life. The abrupt and terrible death of Peck's son, Jonathan, was one of the low points of his life.

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Publicity Photo of American film actor Gregory Peck | Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Publicity Photo of American film actor Gregory Peck | Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Like Peck, Jonathan had a lot of potentials ahead of him and was touted to go on to achieve his dreams. For some years, he showed signs of prospects and joined the Peace Corps after graduating from college. He also spent a couple of years in Tanzania developing a Swahili agriculture syllabus.

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After returning to his hometown, he secured a job in a radio station and exhibited a high moral standard; he was never caught partying or drinking. Despite his seeming purity, Jonathan struggled internally.

At the age of 31 in 1975, Jonathan was found lifeless in his room with a gunshot wound to his head. Losing his son was an unbearable pain for Peck, and he declined acting jobs for two years as he mourned his son.

Gregory Peck and wife Greta pose with their three sons, Stephen, Carey, and Jonathan | Photo: Getty Images

Gregory Peck and wife Greta pose with their three sons, Stephen, Carey, and Jonathan | Photo: Getty Images

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ANTHONY AND HIS WOES

Peck’s youngest son Anthony was not spared from scandal. According to reports, he was a drug addict whose addiction ruined the opportunities coming from a famous home afforded him.

His reckless lifestyle caused his wife, supermodel Cheryl Tiegs to divorce him, which left him in shock. His lifestyle also strained his relationship with his famous father and made him miss out on the fairytale life he was living.

Anthony’s drinking problem was self-destructive. There were fears that he would follow in the harmful path of his older brother Jonathan and bring his life to ruin, causing his father more pain and heartbreak.

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Gregory Peck and wife Veronique Peck attend the Balmain Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1996 show in Paris | Photo: Getty Images

Gregory Peck and wife Veronique Peck attend the Balmain Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1996 show in Paris | Photo: Getty Images

THE PECK FAMILY

Aside from being a good actor, Peck was also a devoted father to his children. The actor had five children who he cared for and made sure to support.

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Peck’s oldest children, Jonathan, Stephen, and Carey Paul, were from his first marriage while he shared a son and a daughter Anthony and Cecilia, with his second wife, Veronique Passani. Some of Peck’s children followed in his footsteps and pursued a career in the movie industry.

Peck’s son Steven wanted to pursue acting but later realized his passion was to help the homeless. His daughter, Cecilia, is a famous actress who made her screen debut in the film “My Best Friend Is a Vampire.”

Cecilia Peck attends Opening Night of the San Diego International Film Festival 2017 on October 5, 2017 in San Diego, California | Photo: Getty Images

Cecilia Peck attends Opening Night of the San Diego International Film Festival 2017 on October 5, 2017 in San Diego, California | Photo: Getty Images

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Peck died from bronchopneumonia in his asleep in 2003, at age 87, and at his death, he was widely respected by both his friends, family, and fans for his contribution to both society and entertainment.

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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