The Truth About Jean Harlow's Death



"I've found everything I've never found before. And when it ends - as it probably must - well even then I won't feel that life has cheated me too much." ~ Jean Harlow in 1937

Hollywood was shocked when Jean Harlow died on June 7, 1937. She was just twenty-six years old and was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. In her short life Jean had starred in more than forty films, married three husbands, and created hundreds of scandalous headlines. After she died wild rumors started spreading about what had really killed her. Some people claimed her blonde hair bleach had poisoned her or that she died from a botched abortion. There were even stories that she died because her second husband Paul Bern had beaten her in 1932. The truth was much more simple but just as tragic. Jean Harlow was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on March 3, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri. When she was a child her parents divorced and her mother took her to California. At the age of fifteen she came down with a severe case of Scarlet Fever. Jean married Charles McGrew, a young millionaire, in 1937.

Jean Harlow

Although she wanted to have a baby she had an abortion 1939. Their marriage ended soon after. Jean's mother, a failed actress, encouraged her to go into show business. She appeared as an extra in movies like Double Whoopee and even posed nude. Her big break came in 1930 when Howard Hughes cast her as a femme fatale in Hell's Angels. The movie was a box-office hit and made her a superstar. Women all over the country began to copy her platinum blonde hairstyle. On July 2, 1932 she married movie executive Paul Bern who was twice her age. He helped her get a lucrative contract at MGM. Just two months after their wedding Paul was found shot to death in their bathroom. The police ruled it was a suicide but many people believe he was murdered. There were rumors that Paul had been impotent but Jean would always say that they had a happy marriage. Although she was devastated by her husband's death she returned to work immediately to start shooting her next film.

Jean Harlow Jean Harlow

Her success continued with starring roles in Red Dust, Dinner At Eight, and Bombshell. She shocked people at the studio by not wearing underwear and putting ice on her breasts before shooting a scene. Despite being one of the world's sexiest women she continued to live with her mother and everyone called her "The Baby". In 1933 she married Harold Rosson, a cameraman. They divorced seven months later and she fell in love with actor William Powell, the ex-husband of Carole Lombard. She desperately wanted to marry him but he refused. When she became pregnant in 1936 he convinced her to have an abortion. By this time she had developed a serious drinking problem. Jean's hair became so damaged from the blonde coloring it began to fall out. MGM decided it was time for her to become a "brownette". They also tried to soften her sex symbol image by casting her as a good girl in Wife Vs. Secretary. In March 1937 she began work on the film Saratoga with he good friend Clark Gable. 

Jean HarlowJean Harlow
Jean's final photo and last pubic appearance

She complained that she wasn't feeling and missed several days of work to have her wisdom teeth removed. On May 29 William Powell took her home after she almost fainted on the set. Although her mother "Mama Jean" claimed to be a Christian Scientist several doctors were called to examine her. At first they thought she had gallbladder infection but it was soon clear that her kidneys were failing. She became very bloated and her breath smelled like urine. Jean was taken to Good Samaritan hospital on June 6 where she slipped into a coma. She died the next morning at 11:37AM.  Her official cause of death was kidney failure and a cerebral edema. She had never fully recovered from the Scarlet Fever she got at fifteen and had been slowly dying for more than a decade. William Powell paid $25,000 for a large crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The inscription on her grave reads simply "Our Baby".

Jean Harlow Forest LawnJean Harlow Forest Lawn
Jean's final resting place at Forest Lawn

Jean Harlow