The lovely Linda Darnell’s life was a good one, but she suffered a lot, too. Tragically she died young at the age of 41 when she was caught in a house fire in Chicago, IL. The story is a very sad one, which we share below:
Linda Darnell had been acting on television for quite a few years and also live theatre, when she got the role of the lusty mistress Sadie in the low budget, “Black Spurs.” After the film opened, she was getting praise for her performance. Her agent called her and told her that because of Black Spurs, she now had offers on three other pictures. At the time she heard about the possible new movie roles, she was visiting her former secretary in Chicago and it looked like Linda had a promising future to look forward to making more films in Hollywood.
However, on the night of April 9, 1965, Linda awoke to intense heat and found flames in the living room. Linda’s friends narrowly escaped from an upstairs window, but Linda didn’t make it out. Linda was found next to the burning living room sofa. Although still alive when the firefighters found her, she had third degree burns over 90% of her body. She was immediately rushed to Cook County Hospital and the doctors did all they could to save her. However, on April 10th, (33 hours after the fire) Linda died. She was 41.
Ironically, she had been watching Star Dust (1940) on television, which was one of the films that set her career in motion, when the house caught fire.
After her death, a man who said he was Darnell’s fiance identified her body. A coroner’s inquest into her death ruled that Darnell’s death was accidental and that the fire had begun in or near the living room sofa and was caused by careless smoking; both adult women were smokers.
Some more sensational reports claimed that on the night of the fire, Darnell had been intoxicated and despondent about the waning of her career. But biographer Ronald L. Davis, in his book Hollywood Beauty, wrote that there was no evidence that any of these stories were true, or that the actress was in any way responsible for the blaze. By his account, Darnell was burned over 90 percent of her body because rather than jump from the window as her friend’s daughter had already done, she tried to make it to the front door. She reached the door but the doorknob was too hot to touch.
Linda had requested that her ashes be taken to New Mexico and scattered over the Hurd ranch, but the Hurds refused permission when the time came. “They wrote us and wanted the most dreadful ritualistic thing of depositing her ashes,” it was recalled, we disliked the group so much that we said, “We’re not going to permit it.” So, Linda’s remains sat in the office of a Chicago cemetery for ten years. Finally in 1975, after her daughter Lola had moved to Pennsylvania and given birth to her children, she asked a local funeral director to send for her mother’s ashes and had them buried in the Adam’s family plot.
“It was painful,” Lola declared. “It wasn’t until Mother’s ashes were in the ground that I saw her death was real.”
Lola concluded on coming to grips with her mother’s death that she wouldn’t have wanted to live in a disfigured state. “What would she have looked like?” Lola asked herself. “Not simply from a professional standpoint, but just to get up in the morning and look at herself in the mirror. And what would her health have been?”
Her ashes are interred at the Union Hill Cemetery, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the family plot of her son-in-law.