Janet Gaynor was one of the most popular and acclaimed actresses of the silent and early sound era. She won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929 for her performances in three films: 7th Heaven, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Street Angel. She also starred in the original version of A Star Is Born in 1937, earning another Oscar nomination. She retired from acting in 1939, but made occasional appearances in films and television in the 1950s and 1980s. She was also an accomplished oil painter and a Broadway star. She died in 1984 at the age of 77, but not from natural causes. Her death was the result of a tragic traffic accident that occurred two years earlier in San Francisco, when a drunken driver crashed into the taxi she was riding in with her husband and friends. In this article, we will explore the details of Janet Gaynor’s cause of death and how it affected her family and fans.
The Accident That Changed Everything
On the evening of September 5, 1982, Janet Gaynor and her husband, producer Paul Gregory, were in San Francisco to attend the opening night of a play starring their good friend, actress Mary Martin. They were accompanied by Martin’s manager, Ben Washer, and Martin’s press agent, Richard Grant. They had dinner at a restaurant and then took a taxi to the theater. As they were crossing the intersection of Franklin and Hayes streets, a van driven by Robert Cato, a former policeman, ran a red light and slammed into the right side of the taxi. The impact was so severe that the taxi spun around and hit a parked car. The passengers in the taxi were all injured, but Gaynor suffered the most serious injuries. She had 11 broken ribs, several pelvic fractures, and major kidney and bladder damage. She was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent surgery and was placed in intensive care. Washer, who was sitting next to Gaynor, was killed instantly. Martin, who was sitting in the front seat, suffered a broken ankle and a concussion. Gregory and Grant had minor injuries. Cato, who was drunk and had a history of driving offenses, was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving, and running a red light. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
The Long and Painful Recovery
Gaynor spent several weeks in the hospital, where she received blood transfusions and underwent multiple surgeries. She was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation center, where she had to learn how to walk again with the help of a walker. She also suffered from chronic pain and infections, and had to take antibiotics and painkillers. She was unable to resume her normal activities, such as painting, gardening, and traveling. She became depressed and withdrawn, and rarely left her home in Palm Springs, California. She relied on the support of her husband, who stayed by her side throughout her ordeal, and her son, Robin, who was adopted by Gaynor and her second husband, costume designer Adrian, who died in 1959. She also received visits and letters from her friends and fans, who expressed their sympathy and admiration for her courage and resilience.
The Final Days and the Official Verdict
In September 1984, two years after the accident, Gaynor’s condition worsened. She developed pneumonia and septicemia, a blood infection. She was admitted to Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, where she died on September 14, 1984. She was 77 years old. Her death was officially ruled as a result of complications from the injuries she sustained in the 1982 traffic accident, according to the Riverside County Coroner’s Office. This meant that Cato, who was still in prison, could be charged with her death. However, the District Attorney’s Office in San Francisco decided not to pursue the case, citing the lack of evidence and the difficulty of proving causation. Gaynor’s family and friends accepted the decision and did not seek any legal action against Cato. They preferred to focus on celebrating Gaynor’s life and legacy, rather than dwelling on the tragedy that ended it.
The Legacy of a Hollywood Legend
Janet Gaynor was cremated and her ashes were interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, next to her second husband, Adrian. She was survived by her third husband, Paul Gregory, and her son, Robin. She also left behind a remarkable body of work that spanned four decades and showcased her talent, charm, and versatility. She was one of the few stars who successfully transitioned from silent films to talkies, and from movies to television and theater. She was also one of the most beloved and respected figures in Hollywood, who was known for her modesty, generosity, and kindness. She received many honors and awards for her achievements, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Golden Globe, and a special Tony Award. She was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She remains an inspiration and an icon for generations of actors and fans, who admire her for her grace, beauty, and spirit. Janet Gaynor’s cause of death was a tragic and unjust end to a brilliant and beautiful life, but it did not diminish her legacy as a Hollywood legend.