On the surface, Peter Lawford lived a charmed life. He enjoyed a successful career as an entertainer and leading man, married into one of the most high-profile families in American history, and was a member of the famed Rat Pack. Yet despite his success Lawford ultimately died a tragic figure.
From the beginning, English-born Lawford was destined for debonair roles, landing his first major part in 1942 opposite Mickey Rooney in “A Yank At Eton.” By the late ‘40s Lawford became a bonafide star, garnering critical acclaim for several roles, including his turn as quarterback Tommy Marlowe in the 1947 collegiate film “Good News,” set in the Roaring Twenties at the fictitious Tait College. The musical also features Mel Tormé, and includes the standards “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and “The Varsity Drag.”
In 1953 the actor struck up a romance with Patricia Kennedy, sister of then-senator John F. Kennedy, and the two were married a year later. Lawford would go on to campaign for his brother-in-law during the 1960 Presidential Election, and his newly gained American citizenship allowed him to vote for JFK.
The Lawford-Kennedy marriage produced four children, but ended in 1966 amid numerous reports of Lawford’s alcoholism and extramarital affairs.
Lawford continued to work steadily, with roles in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Sergeants 3” alongside his Rat Pack brethren. He would also marry three more times. He sunk heavily into drug and alcohol abuse during his later years; attempts at treatment were unsuccessful.
Despite his vices Lawford continued to enjoy his reputation as a dashing playboy. It’s said he was the first to kiss Elizabeth Taylor onscreen, and the last to speak with Marilyn Monroe before her death.
Although Lawford displayed charm and elegance throughout his career, hard living ultimately cost him his life. He died in 1984, heavily in debt, from cardiac arrest complicated by kidney and liver failure. — TOM RYAN