Jean Simmons, Olivier's Ophelia, dies at 80

After Shakespeare and Dickens, she went on to Hollywood stardom

Jean Simmons, the Hollywood star who first entranced cinema-goers with her portrayal of young Estella in David Lean's Great Expectations, has died. Thus ends, at the age of 80, the sometimes troubled life of an actress who leaves behind some memorable performances. She starred with Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry, with Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls, Gregory Peck in The Big Country, Paul Newman in Until They Sail, and as Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.

Simmons, the daughter of a PT instructor who represented Britain as a gymnast at the 1912 Olympics, was born in Lower Holloway, London. At stage school her precocious beauty was spotted and she was cast, at the age of 15, in the Margaret Lockwood film Give Us the Moon. Two years later she was young Estella beguiling the innocent Pip. Two years after Hamlet, she moved to Hollywood with future husband Stewart Granger. Her contract, with Rank in the UK, was sold to Howard Hughes.

"When I returned from the honeymoon," Simmons once said, "I learned that Hughes owned me. He had bought me from J Arthur Rank like a piece of meat." She made four films for him before she managed, with difficulty, to extricate herself from his contractual grip. It was then that she enjoyed many of her biggest successes. They included melodramas such as The Robe; Spartacus with Kirk Douglas; Desiree, where she was required to be little more than mere decor (she described it as one of her "poker-up-the-behind parts"); Guys and Dolls, dancing opposite the somewhat flat-footed Marlon Brando; and, perhaps the best of the lot, Elmer Gantry.

Richard Brooks, who directed her in Gantry, became her second husband, and she continued to turn in some striking performances. Her second Oscar nomination (her first was for Hamlet in 1948) came in 1970 as the runaway housewife Mary Wilson in The Happy Ending. Thereafter, she was most likely to be seen on television, where her best-known role was in The Thorn Birds.

She divorced Brooks in 1977, and began to drink heavily. Yet she was never short of work. She was made an OBE in 2003, and is survived by her daughters, one from each marriage.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power