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James Stewart Had No Will to Live after Wife's Death & Shut Everyone Out in His Final Years

Junie Sihlangu
Apr 28, 2022
07:30 P.M.
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James "Jimmy" Stewart was a womanizer and a bachelor for a good part of his life until he met his wife. When she died, things changed drastically for the actor as he grieved the loss of the love of his life.

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On May 20, 1908, James "Jimmy" Maitland Stewart was born to Elizabeth and Alexander Stewart in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He was raised in a small town alongside his sisters, Mary and Virginia.

James had his formative years at Indiana Normal School before going to Mercersburg Academy and Princeton University. If his career didn't work out, the actor could always fall back on the family business but never had to.

James Stewart posing for a photo, circa 1955. | Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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His grandfather had started the J. M. Hardware Co. store and passed it on to James' father. At Princeton, the star graduated with a degree in Architecture, but the Great Depression made him believe not many jobs would be available.

So when a friend offered him a job, he took it and spent the summer preparing for a Broadway show with the Falmouth Players. Working on Broadway eventually led him to be discovered, and in 1953 he signed with MGM studios and launched his successful career.

JAMES' WOMANIZING YEARS

James Stewart and Ginger Rogers with Oscars at the 1940 Academy Awards banquet in Los Angeles, California, on February 27, 1941. | Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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When James first relocated to Hollywood, his father encouraged him to find a woman to marry and settle down with, but he had other plans. The actor was star-struck and fell in love with leading ladies. 

He dated so many women that he earned himself a reputation as a womanizer until his 40s. Some of the women he dated included Norma Shearer, Ginger Rogers, Dinah Shore, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Marlene Dietrich, and more.

James Stewart on the set of "Broken Arrow," circa 1950. | Source: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

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James later realized that he wanted to settle down and set roots by marrying a woman he loved. He said he wished to have a family to which he could return home at night.  

The woman he finally settled with was 31, divorced, and already had children from her previous marriage. Gloria Hatrick McLean, a dark-haired woman, was a tall and willowy model.

HOW JAMES MET HIS WIFE, THEIR MARRIAGE, AND ADOPTING HER KIDS

Gloria Hatrick McLean and Jimmy Stewart after getting married at the Brentwood Presbyterian Church, in Brentwood, California, on August 9, 1949. | Source: Bettmann/Getty Images

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According to the book "Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart," the actor met Gloria in the summer of 1948 at a dinner outing with Rocky and Gary Cooper.

Decades later, Gloria confessed how Rocky had wanted her to meet James for a long time. The actor had been her favorite one before she even met him because of his ability to make her cry and laugh in one scene.

James Stewart and Gloria Hatrick McLean with their sons Ronald and Michael at Waterloo Station in London on August 28, 1950. | Source: Ron Burton/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Gloria was born in 1918 in Larchmont to Edgar Hatrick and his wife before becoming a mother of two small boys. Her father ran William Randolph Heart's newsreel business.

A witty, tough-minded, classy, and beautiful woman, Gloria attended New York City's Finch College for Women. After her studies, she had a part-time modeling career and developed a career in fashion design.

James Stewart and Gloria Hatrick McLean on their way to a water ballet at the opening of the Shadow Mountain Club Resort, Palm Desert, California, in 1955. | Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Gloria eventually met Ned McLean, a socialite, the son of Evelyn Walsh McLean, and they married in 1941. With James, they courted by playing golf, with the model enjoying the game and outdoor activities because she was athletic. 

The courtship focused on golf trips until Gloria informed her date that she also ate. She figured the actor wasn't keen on other activities and outings because he was stingy with money. 

James Stewart and Gloria Hatrick McLean and their children Ronnie, Michael, Judy, and Kelly in their backyard on August 27, 1954. | Source: Bettmann/Getty Images

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When James proposed marriage, Gloria accepted. On August 9, 1949, the couple tied the knot with a crowd of people in attendance, including the actor's best man, Billy Grady.

James had finally found his best match. The star took his wife's children as his own, and because he now had a large family, the actor bought the "Mediterranean Ugly," his Beverly Hills house, in January 1951. 

He and Gloria raised their children, Ronald and Michael, in that house. James loved the home so much that he grew old in it, and that was also where he would take his last breath. 

LOSING HIS WIFE AND BECOMING A RECLUSE

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Gloria Hatrick McLean and James Stewart at the Cannes Film Festival in France on January 5, 1984. | Source: Micheline Pelletier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

On May 7, 1951, Gloria and James grew their family once more when they welcomed twins Judy and Kelly. Being a family man, the actor preferred a more low-key life during his marriage. 

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Then tragedy struck in the fall of 1993 when Gloria was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer, whereas everyone had expected something to happen to James first. She'd spent fifty years smoking two packages of cigarettes daily.

James Stewart, his wife Gloria, and their daughters Kelly and Judy, in 1951. | Source: Haynes Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images

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Gloria eventually started having chemotherapy after yielding to her husband's requests. After a session of chemotherapy, she started getting sick and lost her hair; before asking her doctors to be honest about her mortality,

McLean was informed that chemotherapy would only minimally prolong her life, and that was when she cut the procedure off completely. The evening before her death, her husband spent over two hours by her bedside.

James Stewart and Gloria Hatrick McLean relaxing at home with his wife, circa 1965. | Source: Gene Lester/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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James' family and friends said he delivered a heartbreaking monologue to his dying wife. He spoke to her about their forty-five-year marriage and how Gloria had been indispensable in his life. 

The star's wife passed away at 75 on February 16, 1994. John Strauss once described Gloria as having always been James' "rudder, anchor, and helm," and when she died, he was left "lost at sea."

James Stewart posing for a photo, circa 1990. | Source: Tim Roney/Getty Images

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After James' wife died, he completely cut off any public activities and told those close to him that his life in the spotlight was over. A year after losing Gloria, the actor still spent most of his time in his bedroom.

He only came out when his children visited or if his housekeeper insisted he come out to eat. James cut off former colleagues, those who'd helped his acting career somehow, and those who lived with him.

James Stewart posing for a photo on January 30, 1975. | Source: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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The star didn't receive guests, respond to letters, make appearances, or eat food sent to him as he became reclusive. In 1995, James misstepped and fell and hit his head on an ornament during the Christmas holiday season. 

On June 25, 1997, James [Stewart] suffered a thrombosis in his right leg, causing a pulmonary embolism.

James Stewart, Gloria Hatrick McLean, and their daughters Judy and Kelly, sightseeing in London, on June 24, 1968. | Source: Downing/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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He luckily never suffered any trauma from the incident, and after a few days, he was home from the hospital. James continued to live a semi-reclusive existence upon returning home, while those close to him noted how he'd always been reclusive.

Gloria was probably the main reason he bothered interacting with people, but when she died, James felt no need to carry on the facade, and it appeared as if he'd completely lost the will to continue living. 

STEWART'S HEALTH ISSUES, CAREER DECLINATION, AND DEATH

Jimmy Stewart posing for a photo in New York, circa 1980. | Source: Images/Getty Images

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In the 1960s, James' work schedule was substantially reduced. The "Airport '77" star even appeared on "The Jimmy Stewart Show" in a 1971 situation comedy, but it drew unimpressive ratings. 

In 1973, he made another go at reviving his acting career in the series "Hawkins," but it was also short-lived. The older he got, James started experiencing health issues, like skin cancer, heart ailments, and needing to wear a hearing aid.

James Stewart posing for a photo, circa 1988. | Source: Nancy R. Schiff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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In 1989, the actor published a book of a collection of poems he'd written, and it sold over 300,000 copies. On June 25, 1997, James suffered a thrombosis in his right leg, causing a pulmonary embolism.

A week later, at age 89, he passed away on June 25, 1997, at his Beverly Hills, California home. He was surrounded by his children when he died, and his last words to them were:

"I'm going to be with Gloria now."

It was ruled that he'd passed from cardiac arrest because of the embolism. James hopefully found the spark back in his life when he was reunited with the love of his life in the afterlife. 

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