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Oscars: The Sad Stories of 9 Acting Nominees Who Committed Suicide

Oscar fairy tales don't always have happy endings: one long-ago nominee died of starvation, another jumped to her death from a fifth-floor window and still another committed a murder-suicide. What could have gone so wrong?

Peters Young Hartman Split - H 2014
Courtesy Everett Collection; Getty Images; Courtesy Everett Collection
From left: Susan Peters, Gig Young and Elizabeth Hartman

The 86th Academy Awards ceremony will take place in Hollywood on Sunday night, and it will be a -- if not the -- high point in the lives of many of the acting nominees, just as Oscar night has been for the last 85 years.

Many of these 20 individuals will go on to even greater fame and fortune, but, inevitably, some will go on to experience hardships, disappointments and perhaps even a return to anonymity that will make them pine for that one night on which they stood firmly in the spotlight, with a sense of love and appreciation from their colleagues and indeed much of the world.

Sadly, for one reason or another, nine people who received acting Oscar nominations in years past, but then fell upon hard times, took an irreversible course of action to deal with their problems: they deliberately ended their own lives. In an effort to ensure that they are not forgotten -- and at the risk of being a little bit of a downer -- here is a recap of each of their stories, high points and low.

CHESTER MORRIS (1901-1970)

Oscar History: Best remembered as the character “Boston Blackie” in a series of 1940 B-movie detective films, Morris was nominated years earlier, at the second Oscars, for best actor for Alibi (1929). (He lost to In Old Arizona’s Warner Baxter.)

Death: At the age of 69, the actor overdosed on barbiturates. No suicide note was ever found, but he was known to be dying of cancer and so the prevailing belief has always been that he deliberately took his own life.

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SUSAN PETERS (1921-1952)

Oscar History: For her first significant role, in Random Harvest (1942), 21-year-old Peters received a best supporting actress nomination, becoming one of the youngest nominees in history, at the time. (She lost to Mrs. Miniver’s Teresa Wright.)

Death: On New Year’s Day 1945, Peters and her husband were out duck hunting when a rifle accidentally discharged. A bullet lodged in her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down. The 23-year-old wife and mother became increasingly depressed, separated from her husband and ultimately stopped eating. She died of starvation and kidney failure.

GEORGE SANDERS (1906-1972)

Oscar History: For his work as a ruthless theater critic in All About Eve (1950), Sanders won best supporting actor.

Death: In his later years, Sanders suffered a stroke and displayed signs of dementia, which caused him to become depressed. One night, he checked into a hotel near Barcelona and was found dead two days later alongside five empty bottles of barbiturates and a note that read: “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. George Sanders.”

MAGGIE McNAMARA (1929-1978)

Oscar History: For her work in the big-screen version of the controversial film The Moon Is Blue (1953), which was adapted from a Broadway production in which she also starred, McNamara was nominated for best actress. (She lost to Roman Holiday’s Audrey Hepburn.)

Death: Following a divorce and a nervous breakdown, McNamara’s career began to wane. She received her last big-screen credit in 1964 and then fell out of the public eye, working temp jobs as a typist to pay the bills. She was found dead in her apartment -- the result of an overdose of prescription tranquilizers and sleeping pills -- with a suicide note on her piano.

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CHARLES BOYER (1899-1978)

Oscar History: The suave Frenchman received four best actor nominations over the years, for Conquest (1937), losing to Captain CourageousSpencer Tracy; Algiers (1938), losing to Tracy again, for Boys Town; Gaslight (1944), losing to Going My Way’s Bing Crosby; and Fanny (1961), losing to Judgment at Nuremberg’s Maximilian Schell.

Death: Two days after the death of Boyer’s wife of 44 years, and two days before his 79th birthday, Boyer deliberately overdosed on barbiturates. (Nearly 13 years earlier, the couple’s only child had committed suicide, as well.)

GIG YOUNG (1913-1978)

Oscar History: Young was nominated for best supporting actor three times over an 18-year span, for Come Fill the Cup (1951), losing to A Streetcar Named Desire’s Karl Malden; Teacher’s Pet (1958), losing to The Big Country’s Burl Ives; and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), for which he finally won. He described hearing his name called as the winner as “the greatest moment of my life.”

Death: Less than a decade after his Oscar win, and only three weeks after the 64-year-old married a 31-year-old German actress named Kim Schmidt -- his fifth wife -- Young shot her and then himself in their New York City apartment. It remains unclear what brought about this incident -- or why the actor, in his will, left most of his estate, including his Oscar, to his former agent, but only $10 to his teenage daughter, whom he had denied paternity.

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RACHEL ROBERTS (1927-1980)

Oscar History: For her work as a widowed landlady in the British New Wave film This Sporting Life (1963), Roberts received a best actress nomination. (She lost to Hud’s Patricia Neal.)

Death: Heartbroken following her 1971 divorce from Rex Harrison, whose fourth wife she had been, she became increasingly depressed. In 1980, after attempting to win him back one last time, she swallowed a considerable amount of barbiturates and some other caustic substance, which brought about her immediate death and sent her body crashing through a glass window, outside of which her gardener later found her.

ELIZABETH HARTMAN (1943-1987)

Oscar History: In her first film performance at the height of the Civil Rights era, Hartman, who was white, portrayed a blind girl who falls in love with a black man, played by Sidney Poitier, in A Patch of Blue (1965), and received a best actress nomination. She was just 22, the category’s youngest nominee ever, at that time. (She lost to Darling’s Julie Christie.)

Death: “That initial success beat me down,” Hartman told an interviewer later in life. “I was not ready for that.” She struggled to find additional quality roles (she was mostly asked to play other disabled characters) and began to suffer from depression, paranoia and agoraphobia. She eventually gave up acting and moved to Pittsburgh, where she worked at a museum and subsisted on government and familial handouts while receiving outpatient treatment. (She had attempted suicide by overdose on prior occasions.) On the fifth anniversary of her move from Hollywood, she jumped out of the window of her fifth-floor apartment.

RICHARD FARNSWORTH (1920-2000)

Oscar History: The onetime stunt man and extra in films as early as Gone With the Wind (1939) became a respected character actor and earned noms for best supporting actor for Comes a Horseman (1978) and best actor for The Straight Story (1999). (He lost to The Deer Hunter’s Christopher Walken and American Beauty’s Kevin Spacey, respectively.)

Death: Little more than one month after his 80th birthday, and little more than six months after he attended the Oscars as a nominee for the second time, Farnsworth, who had been diagnosed years earlier with terminal cancer that left him partially paralyzed and caused him great pain, decided to take matters into his own hands and shot himself to death.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg