The Tragic 1960 Death Of Clark Gable Explained

Sometimes called the king, actor Clark Gable shone brightly in nearly every one of his films. Tall and charming, he starred in such popular hits as "It Happened One Night" (1934, for which he won the Oscar), "Gone with the Wind" (1939), and "The Misfits" (1960), per IMDb. But his sudden death in 1960 left fans wondering what other great performances he might have given if he'd had the time. His impressive career spanned several decades, making him one of Hollywood's most enduring stars. In his personal life, however, Gable seemed to have more than his share of troubles. He had two failed marriages early on, first to acting coach Josephine Dillon, who helped Gable on his way up (via the Los Angeles Times). His second marriage didn't fare any better — his union to Rita Langham only lasted from 1931 to 1935, when the pair separated. They didn't divorce until 1939, around the same time Gable met his greatest love, Carole Lombard.

Sadly, the Gable and Lombard love story proved to be a short one. She died in an airplane crash in 1942, only a few years after the pair tied the knot (via Britannica). Lost in his grief, Gable drank heavily for a time. He then gave up acting and enlisted in the military. At 41 years old, Gable signed on with the Army Air Corps during World War II. He served as a tail gunner and went on to earn the rank of major.

Clark Gable's life marred by loss

After the war, Gable took up acting again. But he was still haunted by the loss of Lombard, which left him floundering personally for some time. He tried again for happiness by marrying Lady Sylvia Ashley in 1949, according to the New York Times. Their union didn't last long, however, with Ashley, the widow of actor Douglas Fairbanks, splitting from Gable in 1951. During the divorce proceedings she accused Gable of mental cruelty.

In the final years of his life, however, Gable seemed to be on the upswing. He married actress Kay Williams, also known as Kay Williams Spreckels, in 1955. She had two children from an earlier marriage (via The New York Times). Gable seemed to finally have some measure of domestic bliss (via a United Press International report). The couple learned that they were expecting their first child together in 1960, and Gable planned to take a break from work when their little one arrived, according to the Los Angeles Times. He just wanted to finish up one project first.

Clark Gable's final film may have hastened his death

"The Misfits" had a slew of Hollywood and literary heavyweights associated with the project. This complex, dramatic, contemporary western film was directed by John Huston, using a script written by playwright Arthur Miller, per IMDb. Miller's wife, actress Marilyn Monroe, co-starred with Gable and legendary actor Montgomery Clift. But working on this movie took a lot out of Gable. 

By this time, Gable was already in poor health, according to Turner Classic Movies. He had suffered one heart attack earlier in his life, and he was known for his heavy drinking and smoking habit. These problems were compounded by the drastic measures Gable used to get into shape for his portrayal of Gay Langland, an aging cowboy. He dropped more than 30 pounds quickly with the help of amphetamines. And if the preparation for the role was hard, making the film was even more difficult. The film was made on location in Nevada, and its stars had to cope with the area's brutal heat.

Clark Gable's heart gave out in the end

"The Misfits" required some reshoots, which led Gable to work an extra three weeks on the film, per the Los Angeles Times. After the project wrapped, he and his wife went back to California, to their home in Encino, in November 1960. Gable soon experienced a health crisis, suffering a heart attack on November 6. The star was taken to the hospital for treatment, and he seemed to be doing okay. But only 10 days later, Gable died suddenly in his bed at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. The nurse with him at the time Gable was sitting up one moment and gone the next. His death came only hours after having dinner with his wife in his room there. It was suspected that he had been struck by yet another heart attack. Gable was 59 years old.

Newspaper headlines remembered Gable as one of film's top stars. He was laid to rest beside his third wife, Carole Lombard, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, according to Turner Classic Movies. Gable never got a chance to see the success of "The Misfits," which was released in 1961. The movie also proved to be the final performance of his co-star Marilyn Monroe. Gable never got the opportunity to see his son, John Clark Gable, who was born four months after Clark's death, according to United Press International.