Susannah York Cause of Death: How the British Actress Lost Her Battle with Cancer

Susannah York was a British actress who rose to fame in the 1960s with her roles in films such as Tom Jones, A Man for All Seasons, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? She was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance in the latter film, and won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress for Images in 1972. She also appeared in stage plays, television shows, and children’s books. She was known for her blue-eyed beauty, her versatile acting skills, and her outspoken views on social and political issues. She died on January 15, 2011, at the age of 72, after a long struggle with bone marrow cancer. This article will explore the life and career of Susannah York, and the circumstances of her death.

Early Life and Education

Susannah York was born as Susannah Yolande Fletcher on January 9, 1939, in Chelsea, London. Her father was a merchant banker and steel magnate, and her mother was the daughter of a diplomat. Her parents divorced when she was five years old, and her mother remarried a Scottish businessman. York moved to Scotland with her mother and stepfather, and attended Marr College in Troon, Ayrshire. She later became a boarder at Wispers School in Midhurst, Sussex, where she developed an interest in acting. She was expelled from the school at the age of 13 for swimming nude in the pool at night. She then transferred to East Haddon Hall in Northamptonshire.

York decided to pursue a career in acting, and auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. She was accepted into the prestigious institution, and won the Ronson award for most promising student. She graduated from RADA in 1959.

Film Career

York made her film debut in 1960, appearing in Tunes of Glory alongside Alec Guinness and John Mills. She also met her future husband, Michael Wells, on the set of the film. They married in 1959, and had two children: Orlando Wells, who became an actor, and Sasha Wells, who became a singer.

York’s breakthrough role came in 1963, when she played Sophie Western, the love interest of Albert Finney’s titular character in Tom Jones. The film was a huge success, winning four Academy Awards and becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year. York received rave reviews for her performance, and established herself as a leading lady of British cinema.

York continued to star in various films throughout the 1960s, showcasing her range and versatility as an actress. She played Sigmund Freud’s patient Cecily Koertner in Freud (1962), opposite Montgomery Clift; she portrayed Sir Thomas More’s daughter Margaret in A Man for All Seasons (1966), opposite Paul Scofield; she played a lesbian soap opera star in The Killing of Sister George (1968), opposite Beryl Reid; and she played a dancer who participates in a grueling marathon contest in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), opposite Jane Fonda. For the latter role, she received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In the 1970s, York continued to appear in films that challenged her as an actress. She won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress for Images (1972), a psychological thriller directed by Robert Altman; she played Zee Blakeley, a woman who tries to break up the marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine in X Y & Zee (1972); she played Terry Steyner, a woman who has an affair with Roger Moore’s character in Gold (1974); she played Solange, one of two maids who plot to murder their mistress in The Maids (1975), opposite Glenda Jackson; she played Mrs. Scarlett, one of the suspects in Clue (1985), based on the board game; and she played Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s biological mother in Superman (1978) and its sequels.

Stage Career

York was also active on stage throughout her career. She made her West End debut in 1960, playing Lucrece in Duel of Angels by Jean Giraudoux. She also appeared on Broadway in 1963, playing Juliet opposite John Stride’s Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Some of her other notable stage roles include Rosalind in As You Like It (1967), Ophelia in Hamlet (1970), Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House (1971), Albert Nobbs in The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs (1980), Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (1982), Gertrude Stein in Appearances (1987), Mrs Alving in Ghosts (1990), and Mrs. Higgins in Pygmalion (2007).

Television Career

York also appeared in several television shows and movies, both in the UK and the US. She played Alice Aisgill, a married woman who has an affair with a young soldier in The Love School (1975), a BBC series about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; she played Queen Elizabeth I in The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight (1979), a BBC adaptation of Shakespeare’s play; she played Lady Jessica, the mother of Paul Atreides, in Dune (2000), a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries based on Frank Herbert’s novel; and she played Mrs. Cratchit, the wife of Bob Cratchit, in A Christmas Carol (2000), a TNT movie starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge.

Children’s Books

York was also a children’s author, writing two fantasy novels: In Search of Unicorns (1973) and Lark’s Castle (1976). The books were inspired by her son Orlando’s love of mythology and legends. She also illustrated the books herself.

Activism and Views

York was an outspoken activist and supporter of various causes, such as nuclear disarmament, human rights, animal welfare, and environmentalism. She was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and participated in several protests and marches against nuclear weapons. She was also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip to witness the conditions of the Palestinians. She was a vegetarian, and advocated for animal rights. She was also concerned about global warming, and supported renewable energy sources.

York was also vocal about her views on feminism, sexuality, religion, and politics. She identified as a feminist, but rejected the label of “women’s libber”. She said: “I am a feminist, but not a rabid one. I don’t go around burning my bra or anything like that.” She also supported gay rights, and said that she had bisexual experiences in her youth. She said: “I have enjoyed sex with both men and women. I think sex is very important.” She was raised as a Roman Catholic, but later became an agnostic. She said: “I don’t believe in God as such, but I do believe in some kind of universal force.” She was also critical of the British monarchy, and said that she would prefer a republic. She said: “I think the monarchy is an anachronism. I don’t see why we should have to pay for their lavish lifestyle.”

Personal Life and Death

York married Michael Wells in 1959, and had two children with him: Orlando Wells, born in 1967, and Sasha Wells, born in 1972. The couple divorced in 1976, after York had an affair with actor Warren Beatty during the filming of Kaleidoscope (1966). York never remarried, but had several relationships with other men, including actors George C. Scott and Richard Burton.

York was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2009, after suffering from back pain for several months. She underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but the disease progressed to multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. She died on January 15, 2011, at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. She was surrounded by her family and friends. Her son Orlando said: “She fought it for two years without complaining. She faced it with incredible courage.” Her daughter Sasha said: “She was an absolutely fantastic mother who was very down to earth.”

York’s funeral was held on January 28, 2011, at St Marylebone Parish Church in London. Her body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. Her ashes were scattered at her home in Co Cork, Ireland.

Susannah York was one of the most talented and versatile actresses of her generation. She left behind a legacy of memorable performances in film, stage, and television. She was also a passionate advocate for various causes that she believed in. She was admired by many for her beauty, her intelligence, and her spirit.

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