Legendary actress Joan Fontaine passed away from natural causes in her sleep at her home in California on Dec. 15. Her longtime friend Noel Beutel said that Joan had been fading for the last few days, but that she died peacefully.
Joan was one of the most recognizable actresses of her time and a Hitchcock favorite. She won an Academy Award in 1941 for starring in the Alfred Hitchcock film, ‘Suspicion’. She was also nominated for best actress for Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca’ in 1940 and for ‘The Constant Nymph’ three years later. She also was notable as Charlotte Bronte’s eponymous heroine in ‘Jane Eyre’ (1944) opposite Orson Welles; in the romantic thriller ‘September Affair’ (1950) with Joseph Cotten; in ‘Ivanhoe’ (1952) with Robert Taylor; and in ‘Island in the Sun’ (1957), where she plays a high-society woman in love with an up-and-coming politician (Harry Belafonte). Joan made regular TV appearances in the late ’50s and early ’60s and was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1980 for her guest-starring stint in the soap opera ‘Ryan’s Hope’.
Joan is also known for her lifelong, legendary feud with her sister and fellow actress, Olivia de Havilland. Their personal feud translated to their careers as well, as they often competed for the same roles. A lot has been written and said about their feud, not in the least by Joan herself, who wrote about it in her memoir No Bed of Roses in 1978.
Off the screen, Fontaine was a licensed pilot, an accomplished interior decorator and a Cordon Bleu-level chef. In later years, she avidly tended her gardens and doted on her dogs. She was also known for being exceptionally gracious to fans, answering correspondence and indulging autograph requests until shortly before her death.
Fontaine was married four times, to Brian Aherne, William Dozier – the father of her daughter Deborah – Collier Young and finally Sports Illustrated golf editor Alfred Wright, Jr. She and Wright divorced in 1969. Joan is survived by her sister Olivia, daughter Deborah and adopted daughter Martita.