Vintage | Throwback 70s

Joan Crawford's Real Cause Of Death Finally Revealed - Says Family Friend

On May 10, 1977, the world lost one of its most iconic film and television stars, Joan Crawford.

The actress, who rose to fame in 1928 after her performance in a silent melodrama titled Our Dancing Daughters, was found dead in her Manhattan apartment at the age of about 69 (her exact age is unknown).

Although her official cause of death was due to acute coronary occlusion, a heart condition, there were many who weren't convinced.

Her close friend and neighbor, Doris Lilly was one of them.

Joan's final years were shrouded with mystery.

In 1974, after an unflattering photograph taken at an event she co-hosted leaked, Joan cancelled all public appearances and began to isolate herself in her apartment.

"I often tried to get her to come out to social events, but in the final year of her life she didn't leave her apartment," movie critic Kathleen Carroll said.

She continued, "She wasn't getting any offers. Finally she became more and more self conscious about going out in public. She didn't look quite her best. She had come to the point where she could not live up to the public image of herself. I felt that she was desperately lonely."

In the years that followed, her health began to decline after years of alcohol abuse and a cancer diagnosis.

Joan Crawford's final public appereance
Corbis

According to one of her biographers, Lawrence J. Quirk, Joan had no one in her life to keep her company. In Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, Lawrence wrote that the actress would call him late night "high on vodka, demanding, neurotic, and imperious."

“I felt for her loneliness and unhappiness, but she was just too much,” he added.

It wasn't long after that the actress gave away her beloved Shih Tzu, Princess Lotus Blossom on May 8, 1977, an act which Doris and many others saw as a sign that she was nearing the end.

But according to Doris, there was another big factor that contributed to Joan's death.

Abandoned by her children

On top of her illness and crumbled public image, the stress of abandonment by her four children, greatly contributed to Joan's sudden passing.

Although it wasn't made public until a year after her death, Joan's adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, alleged that the socially-conscious actress was physically and emotionally abusive.

Christina released the controversial tell-all book Mommie Dearest in which she provided detailed accounts of how badly their mother treated them.

She also claimed that "many people in the movie business knew the truth, and were too afraid of personal consequences to speak up or to stop it."

On the other hand, some of Joan's friends and co-stars denied the accusations, and so did her first husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her two youngest daughters, Cathy and Cynthia, and her grandson Casey Lalonde.

Casey, who is the Mildred Pierce star's grandson from Cathy, explained that his grandmother, whom he called "JoJo," was nothing like the monster that Christina wrote about. He even shared his own childhood memories to back it up.

"She always entertained me and my sister at the apartment. We just visited with her just like any other grandmother."

"She was always happy to see us, very warm and pleasant," he added. "She [Crawford] always made us feel comfortable. She made us lunch. I remember sitting in her kitchen, eating lunch with her and then we’d play."

Christina's claims convinced many that this is why Joan's children didn't stick around during her final moments.

Joan Crawford and Christina

Joan's last days

In an interview with The National Enquirer, Doris revealed something about the days leading up to Joan's death that most people did not know.

Two days before the Oscar-winning star passed away, she was forced to spend Mother's Day alone.

"I've never told anyone about it before but Joan called me the day after Mother's Day 1977. She told me she was miserable and that she felt life wasn't worth living anymore," said Doris.

"She said, 'Doris, I'm so unhappy. I can't go on living.' Then she began sobbing uncontrollably and I told her to pull herself together."

Doris said that they spent an hour on the phone, but she was "frightened for her" after they hung up.

Joan, who died the next day, "was beside herself with grief, which led Doris to believe that she took her own life.

How did she do it? Doris claims Joan "took an overdose of sleeping pills."

Since no autopsy was conducted, the medical examiner wasn't able to confirm that Joan died by suicide. He later admitted that had he known that some of her family members and friends had doubts, he would've performed an autopsy and toxicology.

Joan's daughter Cynthia is also sure that her mother did not die from a heart condition because she had no history of cardiac problems. However, she did confirm that her mother had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, and that's what killed her.

As for Christina, she never discussed the circumstances surrounding her mom's death, but she did open up about the moment after the funeral that led her to finally release the memoir.

The final straw

Turns out, Joan knew about Christina's plans to write and exposé about their family, and this may have been the reason why she left her daughter out of her will.

The actress's actions added fuel to the fire, and was the final push Christina needs to have the book published.

"When the language of my mother’s will was read to me I was stunned," Christina said. "Not because I ever believed there would be any inheritance money coming my way, because I had been earning my own living for many years, but because of the unmistakable implication that my brother and I had done something unspeakably wrong. It was a terrible injustice done to both of us.

"So, I returned home after the funeral and decided to write a journal of my childhood, setting the record straight for my own benefit. Never in a million years did I think it would be a book, nor that it would be published. During all our years growing up, no one had been willing to help us, nor even believe us, so why would this time be different?" she added.

Express UK

To this day, Christina says she has no regrets about contributing to her mother's tarnished reputation.

In fact, she's glad that the book "shattered the taboo of silence that existed...It turned the fantasy world of fame and celebrity upside down and shocked a lot of people."

The book later inspired a 1981 movie starring Faye Dunaway, a few documentaries, and more recently a show on FX titled Feud. Christina also penned more books on the relationship with her mother, the latest one, Survivor, was released in early 2017 to mark the 40th anniversary of the original.

Christina Carwford
Christina CrawfordHuffington Post

These days, Christina is grateful that her story is reaching new audiences through platforms that did not exist when the first book came out.

"It is thrilling that Mommie Dearest is now an ebook...I wanted to make sure that each new generation of readers would be able to access the original work," she said. "Now, there is a new generation of readers who use social media and ebooks as their means of information gathering. Welcome!"

The author also has two upcoming projects based on Mommie Dearest, including a two-act musical adaptation of the book, and the final installment in her memoir series.

"Since I began my career as an actress, my first love was the theater; it is a joy to see this work come alive. Now we are working on the next stage of development, which leads to actual production. There are various steps to climb, including finding a lead producer and funding, but we believe it will happen."

A date hasn't yet been set for the book's release, but it shouldn't take much longer.

Do you believe Joan may have killed herself? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.