Olivia de Havilland, an iconic actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age and last surviving cast member of “Gone With the Wind,” has died at age 104, her representatives said Sunday.
“Last night, the world lost an international treasure, and I lost a dear friend and beloved client,” her former lawyer Suzelle M. Smith said in an email to NBC News. “She died peacefully in Paris.”
The Northern California-raised de Havilland had been living in Paris for decades, following her marriage to the late Pierre Galante, executive editor of famed French magazine Paris Match. Galante died in 1998.
De Havilland poked fun at her remarkable longevity — even all the way back in 1962 — in her memoir, “Every Frenchman Has One.” The venerable actress wrote more than 50 years ago that most people must believe she’s dead.
“And so, when I wonder if you know that I live in France, I’m sure you don’t, because I am certain that you think me peacefully interred, and in good old native American soil. If that’s the case, you’re in for a surprise,” de Havilland wrote. “By golly, I’m alive, all right, and I do live in France, and not under but on top of solid Parisian limestone.”
De Havilland was nominated for five Oscars and took home best actress honors twice: in 1947 for “To Each His Own” and in 1950 for “The Heiress.” But she’ll be best remembered for her work in “Gone With the Wind,” picking up a 1940 best supporting actress nomination for playing Melanie “Mellie” Hamilton.
While “Gone With the Wind,” and its romanticized take on the Antebellum South, hasn’t aged well, de Havilland said the movie — and seeing old friends on screen — brought her joy late in life.
“Luckily, it does not make me melancholy,” she told Entertainment Weekly upon her 99th birthday. “When I see them vibrantly alive on screen, I experience a kind of reunion with them, a joyful one.”
“Gone With the Wind” produced the first Black Oscar winner: Hattie McDaniel won best supporting actress for her role as Mammy.
On the night of the 1940 Oscars, de Havilland said she was crushed that she didn’t win and jokingly believed the slight showed “there was no God.” It took her two weeks to realize the historical impact of a Black actress winning Hollywood gold.
“Two weeks later, still brooding about the fact that there was no God, I woke up one morning and thought, ‘That’s absolutely wonderful that Hattie got the award!’ Hattie deserved it and she got it,” de Havilland told the Associated Press in 2004. “I thought I’d much rather live in a world where a Black actress who gave a marvelous performance got the award instead of me.”
In recent years, de Havilland was the star of her own courtroom drama as she sought to file suit against makers of the FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan,” which centered on the rivalry between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
The nation’s high court in January 2019 ruled without comment that it would not take the actress’s case, letting stand a California appeals court’s 2018 decision throwing out her civil action.
De Havilland had objected to her depiction on the eight-part miniseries, claiming her likeness was illegally used. Catherine Zeta-Jones played de Havilland, unfairly casting her as a vulgar gossip-monger, according to the tossed lawsuit.
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916, in Tokyo to her British parents: Walter de Havilland, an English professor at Imperial University in the capital, and Lilian Fontaine, an actress.
De Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, who went on to be an Oscar-winning actress as well, grew up in Saratoga, California, about 50 miles south of San Francisco, with their mother. Walter de Havilland left the family and married the family’s Japanese housekeeper.
The sisters never got along as kids, and their rivalry continued through their adult lives and careers. Fontaine wrote in her memoir, “No Bed of Roses,” of her sister that she could not recall “one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood.”
Fontaine died at age 96 in late 2013. De Havilland was married twice, first to screenwriter and novelist Marcus Goodrich and then to Galante. Goodrich died in 1991 at age 93. The actress had one child with each husband.
Her son, Benjamin Goodrich, a mathematician, was just 42 when he died in 1992 after a long bout with Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, Gisele Galante Chulack, lives in Southern California and sat in court on proceedings on behalf of her mom in the “Bette and Joan” lawsuit.