When George Sanders killed himself — by downing a fatal mixture of Nembutal and vodka in a seaside resort hotel suite some 10 miles south of Barcelona, Spain — the world concluded that the 65-year-old actor known for the silky cynicism of the characters he played onscreen for nearly four decades simply tired of life, and decided to pack it in.
This notion was confirmed by the suicide note police discovered at the scene: Dear World. I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to take a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the death of one of our favorite actors. George Sanders may have been bored, but other key factors figured into his decision to take his own life in the spring of 1972.
Homeless and without roots, overwhelmed by loss of loved ones, by financial disasters, by humiliating errors of judgment in his personal life…George recognized as inevitable the continuing and relentless attacks of illness and age that had ravaged his last years and that would ultimately present him with an intolerable loss of dignity and control against which the mask of disdain and indifference would prove hopelessly inadequate, writes the actor’s biographer Richard VanDerBeets.
He had not exhausted life; life was slowly exhausting him.
Healthy most of his life, the hulking six-foot-three Sanders had suffered strokes, vertigo, and other ailments that limited his physical mobility. He was drinking heavily. His happiest marriage — to the third of four wives, former actress Benita Hume (Ronald Colman’s widow) — ended in 1967 when she lost a long battle with breast cancer.
In that same year, Sanders also lost his older brother, actor Tom Conway, who ended his life as a down-at-the-heels alcoholic. His beloved mother Margaret, rendered “a vegetable” by a series of strokes, also died in 1967.
Then there were financial reversals. In an attempt to “get out of the ridiculous acting profession” and obtain respectability, Sanders sunk a small fortune into a venture that his friend Noel Coward called “a scheme for making sausages in Scotland.” The venture went belly up (pun intended), and from April 1961 through November 1964 it racked up losses of nearly $2 million with George on the hook for much of it.
On the advice of his lawyer he fled Europe for California and in October 1966 filed a petition for bankruptcy, listing assets of $57,657 and liabilities of almost $1 million, according to VanDerBeets, author of 1990’s George Sanders: An Exhausted Life.
Sanders was still getting work as an actor but most of the roles he landed proved totally uninteresting to him. He rarely saw his own movies. Worst of all, he was enduring periods of depression gaining in both intensity and duration. His beloved house in Majorca had been sold at the urging of a passing mistress, a decision he deeply regretted.
During these declining years there was a less than one-year marriage to Magda Gabor, Zsa Zsa’s older sister. It was annulled in 1971.