The Tragic Death Of Errol Flynn

Legendary screen actor Errol Flynn died as he lived: with a drink in his hand and braggadocious swagger in his voice. Just days before his body gave out, the swashbuckler was bragging to onlookers about his sexual escapades, which included making no apologies for his alleged relationship with an underage girl.

Beneath the surface, however, the actor was a shell of what he had once been. His best years behind him, Flynn was ill and broke, so much so that he had the misfortune of dying while on a trip to sell one of his beloved possessions to raise money. What's more, an autopsy would reveal that his lifetime of partying, drinking, and possibly even heroin use, had claimed the life of the actor (Robin Hood, Captain Blood, They Died with Their Boots On) at the relatively young age of 50.

Nevertheless, the shameless self-promoter kept up the act until the end, only revealing after his death, via his posthumously released autobiography (titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways), that he suspected that he would be remembered as much for being a brand as for being a bankable actor.

Flynn died during a trip to raise money to make ends meet

By 1946, Flynn was sufficiently loaded that he was able to buy a yacht, the 118-foot Zaca. That he would purchase such a boat was fitting for his brand: he claimed that his mother's side of the family were "seafaring folk," and even claimed, without evidence, to be descended from HMS Bounty mutineers, according to his autobiography. And of course, on screen he portrayed pirates and sailors, and he himself was known to love boats and the sea. It was, for all intents and purposes, a match made in heaven.

By 1959, however, Flynn's financial situation had soured. As National Post reported, his film career had stalled, with one particular ill-fated movie turning out to be a "catastrophic loss." Further, he was behind in alimony payments from his failed marriages, and the IRS was breathing down his neck.

It was this looming penury that forced Flynn to book a flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, with a view towards selling his beloved yacht to buyer Georgie Caldough.

Flynn kept up his act until the very end

When he arrived in Vancouver, Flynn was in no hurry to let the fact that he was broke and sick distract from his public image. The actor was great at many things, and chief among them were self-promotion and a steadfast refusal to apologize for who he was. Those two things became apparent as soon as he stepped off the plane in Canada.

One thing that was on the minds of the Canadian press that day was his alleged relationship with Beverly Aadland, who came to Vancouver with him and who hadn't yet celebrated her 18th birthday. Aadland wasn't the first underage girl to allegedly warm Flynn's bed, and when a reporter asked him why he seemed to frequently be in the presence of teenage girls, his response (per National Post) was crude, as well as unapologetic.

In the hours leading up to his death, Flynn continued to promote himself as a wealthy lothario. "[With] a drink in his hand and in his signature high-brow accent, [Flynn] was regaling Vancouver society with tales of globetrotting swashbuckle," wrote the National Post. Flynn, for his part, would later reveal, through his posthumously-published autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways that he realized he had become more of a symbol than a man: "I had by now made about forty five pictures, but what had I become? I knew all too well: A phallic symbol. All around the world I was, as a name and personality, equated with sex," he wrote.

Decades of unhealthy living caught up to him at the age of 50

By the time he'd arrived in Vancouver, there was no escaping the fact that Flynn was a shell of what he had once been. Onlookers noticed his bedraggled appearance, which stood in sharp contrast to the dashing, handsome image that had made him a star decades earlier. The list of maladies bedeviling the actor was lengthy, according to Montecristo Magazine. A lifetime of heavy drinking had left him with cirrhosis of the liver. He also frequently battled malaria, had suffered two heart attacks, and had chronic back pain which he purportedly treated with heroin.

On the afternoon of October 14, 1959, Flynn and Aadland were on their way back to the airport when he began complaining of pain — pain that would ultimately be the precursor to his third and final heart attack. He was soon driven to the home of Dr. Grant Gould. Some time later, Flynn asked to be left alone, and soon afterwards, Aadland found him unresponsive. He was pronounced dead later that evening.

An autopsy (posted at would reveal that he died of myocardial infarction due to coronary thrombosis and coronary atherosclerosis, while fatty degeneration of liver and portal cirrhosis of the liver were listed as significant enough to be considered contributing factors in his death.

Vancouver coroner Glen McDonald would later write, "It seemed, I thought at the time, an ignominious end for a famous movie star. But that's life. That's death."