Lew Ayres Cause of Death: How the Star of All Quiet on the Western Front Passed Away

Lew Ayres was a famous American actor who had a long and varied career in film and television. He is best known for his role as Paul Bäumer, a young German soldier who experiences the horrors of World War I, in the classic film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He also played Dr. Kildare in nine films and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Johnny Belinda (1948). But how did Lew Ayres die and what were the circumstances of his death?

Lew Ayres’ Early Life and Career

Lew Ayres was born Lewis Frederick Ayres III on December 28, 1908, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents divorced when he was four years old, and he moved with his mother, stepfather, and siblings to San Diego, California. He dropped out of high school and started a small band that traveled to Mexico. He later returned to pursue an acting career, but continued working as a musician. He played banjo and guitar for big bands, including the Henry Halstead Orchestra. He recorded one of the earliest Vitaphone movie shorts called Carnival Night in Paris (Warner Brothers, 1927) .

Ayres was discovered by a talent agent at a nightclub in Los Angeles and entered Hollywood as a bit player. He was cast to play opposite Greta Garbo in The Kiss (1929), but it was his leading role in All Quiet on the Western Front that made him a star and secured him a contract with Universal Studios. He made a number of mostly forgotten B movies for Universal, with the exception of Iron Man (1931), with Jean Harlow. His most successful movies at this time were those he made on loan to other studios, such as The Doorway to Hell (1930) with James Cagney in a supporting role, and State Fair (1933) and Servants’ Entrance (1934), both with Janet Gaynor .

Lew Ayres’ Conscientious Objection and World War II Service

Lew Ayres was profoundly affected by the anti-war message of All Quiet on the Western Front, and when he was drafted into the military in 1942, he declared himself a conscientious objector. He refused to bear arms or kill other men for any reason. This caused a public outcry and a backlash from the film industry. His boss, Louis B. Mayer, told him: “You’re finished in pictures!” . Pickets appeared at theaters playing Dr. Kildare films, and other theaters refused to book them.

Ayres eventually achieved the Medical Corps status he had requested, and served as a medic and a chaplain’s aide in the South Pacific theater. He received three battle stars for his bravery under fire and his humanitarian service to wounded soldiers and civilians. He also filmed documentaries about his wartime experiences, such as Altars of the East (1945) .

Lew Ayres’ Post-War Career and Personal Life

Lew Ayres’ wartime service restored him to favor in Hollywood, and his first film after the war was The Dark Mirror (1946), opposite Olivia de Havilland. His career reached another peak with Johnny Belinda, in which he played a sympathetic doctor treating a raped deaf-mute woman, played by Jane Wyman. His role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor .

However, his subsequent movie roles were scarce, and he turned to television for more opportunities. He was offered the role of Dr. Kildare in a TV series, but declined when the network refused to agree to his request for no cigarette sponsorship. He said: “My feeling was that a medical show, particularly one that might appeal to children, should not be used to sell cigarettes” . He continued to act in TV dramas, such as Advise & Consent (1962), The Carpetbaggers (1964), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Damien: Omen II (1978), and Salem’s Lot (1979) .

Lew Ayres was married three times: to actresses Lola Lane (1931-1933), Ginger Rogers (1934-1940), and Diana Hall (1964-1996). He had one son, Justin Ayres, with Hall . He was also interested in comparative religion and philosophy, and toured the country with his documentaries about the faiths of all nations. His film Altars of the World (1976) won critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award .

Lew Ayres’ Cause of Death

Lew Ayres died at his home in Los Angeles, California on December 30, 1996, just two days after his 88th birthday. The cause of death was not reported, but he had been in a coma for several days before he passed away . He was interred next to Frank Zappa at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California .

Lew Ayres was a talented and versatile actor who left a lasting impression on the film industry and the public. He was also a man of principle and compassion, who stood by his convictions and served his fellow human beings. He will be remembered as one of the stars of the golden age of Hollywood and a pioneer of anti-war cinema.

Doms Desk

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