Vivien Leigh And Laurence Olivier Were One Of The Most Iconic Couples. Why Did Their Marriage Fall Apart?

December 3, 2018

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were one of the most discussed celebrity couples of their times. Their tumultuous relationship had a scandalous beginning and saw a series of highs and lows up until its unfortunate end. Leigh and Olivier loved each other madly and deeply, so why did their union fall apart?


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How their romance started

Olivier and Leigh first met in 1936, after one of Leigh’s theater performances. Olivier, 6 years her senior, complimented Leigh on her acting. Both were married at the time, but the chemistry between the two was apparent from the start.

“That's the man I'm going to marry,” the actress reportedly told her friend.

Leigh set out to get Olivier no matter what, and he fell for her. They started seeing each other in secret. The two divorced their respective spouses in 1940 and got married.


Somewhere around that time, Leigh’s mental illness started to show. Her ailment, later identified as bipolar disorder, made her difficult to work with. The actress had mood swings and was frequently hysterical, which troubled her colleagues.

When working on the film that would define her career, Gone with the Wind, Leigh continued to unravel. She expressed her worries to Olivier, but he reassured her that everything would be fine. Now, Leigh’s role as Scarlett O’Hara is considered her greatest role in cinema, and Gone with the Wind remains one of the most successful movies of all time.


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The unraveling

In the following years, Leigh’s health problems continued to pile on. In 1944, the actress became sick with tuberculosis, Harper’s Bazaar wrote. In 1945, she had a miscarriage, which led to the downward spiral of her mental health. Olivier supported his wife as well as he could, and what she really needed, but didn’t get until much later, was treatment of her mental disorder.

The couple continued to act together on stage, but critics were fonder of Olivier than of Leigh. Their negative reviews ate away at the actress’ confidence.

In the early ‘50s, Leigh had yet another mental breakdown and admitted to Olivier that she had cheated on him with actor Peter Finch. The couple still loved each other and tried to fix their marriage, but their attempts were not successful. By 1958, their union was broken beyond repair. They started seeing other people. Leigh began dating actor Jack Merivale and Olivier started dating actress Joan Plowright, who was 22 years his junior. In 1960, Leigh and Olivier formally ended their marriage.


Leigh fell apart after the divorce. Although they were no longer together, Olivier tried to comfort her. According to The Guardian, he wrote to her in one letter following their separation:

I want to say thank you for understanding it all for my sake. You did nobly and bravely and beautifully and I am very oh so sorry, very sorry, that it must have been much hell for you.

Olivier and his new partner got married and had three children, but he and Leigh never got over each other.


The marriage was over, but love wasn’t

Leigh once said she “would rather have had a short life with Larry than a long life without him,” according to The Guardian. Her words came true; she died from complications of tuberculosis in 1967, seven years after her and Olivier’s divorce. When she died, Olivier himself was unwell, undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. But when he got the dreaded call from Jack Merivale, Leigh’s husband at the time, he rushed to their place to say his final goodbye to the love of his life.

Although they couldn’t make their marriage work, Olivier thought about Leigh until the day he died. He succumbed to kidney failure in 1989. It was reported that, shortly before his death, the actor was seen watching a movie with his late beloved and shed a tear.

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