Deborah Kerr, the actress whom the Academy once called an "artist
of impeccable grace and beauty," has died from Parkinson’s disease in Suffolk,
England. She was 86.
While Kerr acted in 45 movies during the height of her
career between 1940 and 1970, she made her greatest impact with a single image:
the passionate kiss between she and
Burt Lancaster in
From Here to Eternity.
The image of Kerr and Lancaster on the beach shore with ocean crashing upon them
endures as the poster image for old Hollywood romanticism, and made waves at the
time for breaking Kerr’s image as a prim and conservative lady of the screen.
"I came over here [Hollywood] to act," Kerr is reported to
have once said, "But it turned out all I had to do was to be high-minded, long
suffering, white-gloved and decorative."
Kerr began her career with a small part in 1940’s
Contraband that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.
also her first instance of working with legendary filmmaking duo
and Emeric Pressburger, establishing between them a fruitful working
relationship. Playing three separate roles in Powell and Pressburger’s
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, presenting herself as a formidable
The success of 1947’s
Black Narcissus (another Powell and Pressburger production) made her an oft-spoken name in Hollywood and American
households. As a stern nun establishing a religious commune in the Himalayas,
the film gave her the austere image that would mark her memorable turns in films
like The King and I,
An Affair to Remember, and
Kerr entered cinematic history with From Here to Eternity,
which the American Film Institute deemed in 2002 the 20th most
romantic film of all time. Kerr’s performance in that picture earned her second
of six Oscar nominations, tying with
Thelma Ritter as the most nominated actress
to never win an acting Oscar. However, Kerr received an honorary lifetime Oscar
in 1993, considered by the Academy "a dedicated actress
whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and
By 1970, Kerr took a leave of absence from acting, calling herself "either
too young or too old" for the parts she was receiving. She also
registered disappointment over the increasing violence and sexuality that marked
contemporary and upcoming movies, but did enter a brief return to acting in the
early and mid 1980s with a handful of TV and now-obscure movies.
Kerr is survived by her
husband, author Peter Vertel, two daughters, and three granddaughters.