William Powell retires from acting and leads a long and happy life

Closer Staff

As Nick Charles, one half of crime-fighting duo Nick and Nora, William Powell made marriage fun. He and Myrna Loy, his co-star in the Thin man mysteries, dressed impeccably as they joked over cocktails or cooed affectionately into each other’s ears. The actors were so believable that Nick and Nora, fans wrote in asking for marriage advice!

In his real life, however, William experienced a lot of heartache. His first two marriages ended in divorce and soul mate, actress Jean Harlow, tragically died aged 26. William also survived the suicide of his only child and cancer before finding joy in the last decades of his life.

After a brief early marriage to actress Eileen Wilson, the mother of his son, William, the actor married Carole Lombard in 1931. “The day I met Carole, I felt like a 16-year-old boy on his first date,” he exclaimed.

But the demands of the twin careers in Hollywood caused long separations and the couple amicably divorced after less than three years. They would, however, remain lifelong friends and team up again onscreen in the goofy 1936 comedy. My man Godfrey.

William had started his career playing villains on silent screen, but has found its way into sophisticated comedies. He filmed Reckless and defamed lady with Jean Harlow and fell hard for his leading lady. “They got on really well,” says Roger Bryant, author of William Powell: The Life and the Movies. “She was drawn to his sophistication and worldly ways, and she felt she could trust him.”

William Powell retires from acting
Greenhouse Images / Shutterstock

William appreciated Jean’s good looks, of course, but also her ability to be one of the guys. “She was outspoken, like Carole Lombard,” says Bryant. “He had this very urban image, but he liked women who were a little salty.”

The couple dated for two years and planned to get married, but their happiness came to an abrupt end when Jean fell ill on set in 1937. Saratoga. A studio doctor made the mistake of dismissing Jean’s pain and vomiting as lingering symptoms of her recent bout with the flu – but it was much worse. “She had a disease that had been destroying her kidneys for years,” says Bryant. William arrived when Jean was finally hospitalized and was with her when she died of uremic poisoning. “After the funeral, he went into solitary confinement,” says Bryant. “He was so distressed that he fell ill.”

In 1940, the star married Diana Lewis, his third and last wife. By then, William had survived rectal cancer through experimental treatments. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he admitted. He retired from filmmaking in the 1950s and moved to the California desert to work on his golf game. “I think he’s finally found happiness,” Bryant says. “Fan magazines depicted him with Diana playing games and riding bikes around Palm Springs. He lived another 29 years and was obviously happy.

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