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John Drew Barrymore: The Complicated Life of Drew Barrymore's Father

Titi Dokubo
Jul 25, 2022
05:25 P.M.
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John Drew Barrymore had a life that drew attention long before he died. He is now popularly known as actress Drew Barrymore's father and had a complicated life.

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The Barrymore family has long been known as the "acting family," even before the birth of Hollywood. The Barrymore dynasty has produced an actor almost through every stage of acting's evolution.

Through the years, depending on their birth surnames, members of the family have taken Barrymore as their stage name or legal last name.

Portrait of John Drew Barrymore for "The Sundowners" | Source: Getty Images

Portrait of John Drew Barrymore for "The Sundowners" | Source: Getty Images

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Some Barrymores who took to acting either on stage or in movies are Diana, John Sr., Lionel, Ethel, Maurice, and not excluding the famous actress Drew Barrymore.

John Drew Barrymore tried to make way for himself in Hollywood, but his troubled ways kept him from achieving the fame his father or daughter had. Here are details about the actor and his complicated life.

Photo of Lionel and John Sr. Barrymore | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Lionel and John Sr. Barrymore | Source: Getty Images

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WHO WAS JOHN DREW BARRYMORE?

John Jr. was born John Sidney Blythe Barrymore Jr., in Los Angeles, California, on June 4, 1932, to John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, and he never had a relationship with his father.

In wanting to keep him away from the entertainment industry or having a career as an actor, his mother sent him to study at St. John's Military Academy and wanted him to have a college education.

At 17, John Jr. rebelled against his mother's wishes and signed a movie contract. He chose not to train in the theatre, instead plunging into leading roles and dumping them at least twice before he made his stage debut.

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Portrait of John Drew Barrymore | Source: Getty Images

Portrait of John Drew Barrymore | Source: Getty Images

During World War II, at 13, he and his cousin enlisted in the United States Navy despite being below the minimum enlistment age. Due to their height, the military never discovered their lies until several weeks later.

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At 18, he made his screen debut and starred in about seven films as John Barrymore Jr. He had roles in the 1950 movies "The Sundowners" and "High Lonesome." In 1951, John Jr. also acted in "Quebec," in "Thunderbirds" in 1953, and in "While the City Sleeps" in 1956.

By the mid-1950s, the Actors Equity suspended John Jr. for a year for "unprofessional behavior" after he had landed in jail multiple times on charges of violent quarrels with his first wife, speeding, and drunk driving.

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "High Lonesome" circa 1950 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "High Lonesome" circa 1950 | Source: Getty Images

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In 1958, John Jr. hoped to improve his image, starting with a name change. He dropped Blythe as his middle name and substituted it with another family name, Drew. With his new name, he starred in "High School Confidential!" and "Never Love a Stranger."

Changing his name did not seem to help improve his image, and he soon became unemployable in the United States. He moved to Italy for six years and appeared in the leading role in several Italian low-budget costume epic movies.

He starred in "I Cosacchi," also known as "The Cossacks," "La Donna dei Faraoini," also known as "The Pharaohs' Woman," and "Les Nuits de Raspoutine," also known as "The Night They Killed Rasputin."

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John Drew Barrymore on the set of "High Lonesome" circa 1950 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "High Lonesome" circa 1950 | Source: Getty Images

JOHN DREW BARRYMORE BECAME RECLUSIVE

After returning from Italy in 1964, he worked on television, and in 1966, he was billed to appear as Lazarus in an episode of Star Trek called the "Alternative Factor."

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John Jr. was a no-show on the first day of filming, and the producers filed a grievance against him with the Screen Actors Guild. They won the filing leading to the actor's membership suspension for six months.

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "The Cossacks" on July 30, 1959 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "The Cossacks" on July 30, 1959 | Source: Getty Images

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His acting became sporadic as his most productive period ended, and his addictions played a significant part in his life, landing him in jail more than once.

After his suspension, John Jr. became more reclusive, and in the late 1960s, he suddenly disappeared from Hollywood and stopped acting. He was reportedly in India for meditation before moving to the California desert, where he lived in a shack for five years and practiced yoga.

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "The Big Night" in 1951 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore on the set of "The Big Night" in 1951 | Source: Getty Images

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Ultimately, he was estranged from his family and died on November 29, 2004. After his death, his daughter Drew described him as a wild card and a mad poet hedonist man child. She said:

"My mom chose a wild card for my dad. He was a mad poet hedonist man child! But I understood that as a kid. Somehow I have zero baggage or dad issues. I think I would have liked to have a dad who didn't look so out there. Or who stayed. Or was capable of anything really."

She further stated that even though she does not have a picture of a dad to show how great everything was, her dad gave her a wicked sense of humor, the gift of life, and the wildness she has come to cherish.

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Despite being estranged from her dad, Drew reconciled with him in 2001 and took care of him. John Jr. was diagnosed with cancer, and she had to care for him in a hospice for three years.

After his death, his funeral was a cathartic moment for Drew and her siblings. She revealed they spread his ashes at Joshua Tree National Park because he loved it. She also recalled spending time there with her father.

Photo of John Drew Barrymore at The Starwood night club on December 1, 1973 | Source: Getty Images

Photo of John Drew Barrymore at The Starwood night club on December 1, 1973 | Source: Getty Images

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JOHN DREW BARRYMORE COMES FROM A FAMILY OF ACTORS

John Jr.'s parents were also actors. His mother, Costello, was also known as the Goddess of the Silent Screen. She was born on September 17, 1903, and died on March 1, 1979.

Costello was also born to a family of actors and appeared in several pictures throughout the 1910s and the early 1920s. In 1924, she moved to the New York stage and appeared in several big-budget movies throughout her career.

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello in a scene from "Sea Beast" circa 1926 | Source: Getty Images

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello in a scene from "Sea Beast" circa 1926 | Source: Getty Images

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His father, John Sr., was born on February 15, 1882, and died on May 29, 1942, from pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver. Also born to a family of actors, he made his stage debut at 18.

By 1909, he had become a major Broadway star. When he made his film debut in the early 1910s, he became a romantic leading man and had a successful acting career. John Jr. claimed to have seen his father once.

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello on their wedding day in 1928 | Source: Getty Images

John Barrymore and Dolores Costello on their wedding day in 1928 | Source: Getty Images

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JOHN DREW BARRYMORE MARRIED 4 TIMES AND HAD 4 CHILDREN

In 1952, while attending a party, he met actress Cara Williams and even though she was seven years older than him, they eloped the following year to Las Vegas and honeymooned in Palm Springs.

Williams was as volatile as her husband, and their marriage was described as a stormy one. On May 15, 1954, they welcomed their only son John Blyth Barrymore. Their son is also an actor and director, known for "Before I Sleep," "Full Moon High," and "Kung Fu."

In 1958, Williams and John Jr. parted ways, and their divorce was finalized in 1959. In 1960, he married Gabriella Palazzoli, who he met in Italy. They welcomed a daughter, Blyth Dolores Barrymore, in 1962, and she has stayed out of acting.

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John Drew Barrymore, Cara Williams, and their son, John Barrymore, Jr., on August 30, 1957 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore, Cara Williams, and their son, John Barrymore, Jr., on August 30, 1957 | Source: Getty Images

In 1971, he married aspiring actress Ildikó Jaid Makó, born in a displaced person camp to Hungarian World War II refugees. The pair welcomed their daughter Drew on February 22, 1975.

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When Drew was nine, her mother kicked her father out of the house because of his drug addiction. In 1985, John Jr. married actress Nina Wayne, and they welcomed their daughter Brahma Jessica Blyth Barrymore on July 31, 1966.

On July 29, 2014, Jessica was found dead in her car along a street in National City in San Diego County from an accidental drug overdose two days before her 48th birthday.

John Drew Barrymore and Gabriella Palazzoli at their wedding ceremony in 1960 | Source: Getty Images

John Drew Barrymore and Gabriella Palazzoli at their wedding ceremony in 1960 | Source: Getty Images

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DREW BARRYMORE DIDN'T HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HER PARENTS

Drew had a rocky relationship with her parents. At a young age, she was aware that her father was different. Her mother raised her more like a best friend than a child, and by the time Drew was 13, her mother locked her in a psychiatric ward.

She realized that her parents were not cut out for parenthood, and by the time she was 15, she had been successfully emancipated from her parents.

Drew Barrymore and her mother Jaid circa 1982 | Source: Getty Images

Drew Barrymore and her mother Jaid circa 1982 | Source: Getty Images

Before her father's death, she took care of him, and ten years after his death, she reconciled with her mother. Drew said both her parents had played a significant role in her life as a parent.

Being a mother made her empathize with and understand what her mother had gone through. It also helped Drew come to terms with things and gave her a new perspective.

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