Ava Gardner

December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990

“She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t talk, she’s terrific!”
– Louis B. Mayer

In 1946, movie audiences were properly introduced to Hollywood’s newest femme fatale when Robert Siodmak’s The Killers opened. The film noir classic was the screen debut of Burt Lancaster…and it was the first time audiences really got to see and know Ava Gardner.

Discovered by a peripheral MGM talent scout thanks to her portrait being displayed in a New York City photo studio window, young Ava – who had never even thought about acting – suddenly found herself with a contract in hand in Los Angeles. She learned her trade with bit parts at MGM and worked with acting and dialect coaches to overcome her heavy North Carolina drawl. Five years of toiling in dozens of pictures and improving her talents finally led to a leading role in The Killers and audiences loved her.

A prolific career followed that found Gardner working with all the great directors and leading men of the time. She was nominated for multiple awards including an Academy Award (for 1953’s Mogambo), several BAFTAs and a Golden Globe (for the film version of Tennessee WilliamsThe Night of the Iguana).

She was married three times. Her first husband was fellow MGM contract player, Mickey Rooney, and her second was bandleader, Artie Shaw. But, it was her third marriage to singer/actor Frank Sinatra that was the most sensational…and volatile. Though the tumultuous marriage ended after only six years, the two remained close for the rest of their lives. Gardner also maintained a close friendship with eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes for several decades.

A lifetime of smoking and a diagnosis of lupus led to many health complications toward the end of Gardner’s life. She suffered numerous bouts of pneumonia and a stroke which left her partially paralyzed. She died at the age of 67 in her London home and was buried near her hometown in North Carolina.

Burial

Sunset Memorial Park – Smithfield, NC

Specific Location

Enter the cemetery and drive up the main road. Stop when it hits a “T” intersection and look to your left. There is a sign and a sidewalk directing you to Smithfield’s most famous resident.

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