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  • Margaret Sullavan was an American actress who died from an accidental barbiturate overdose

    In 1929, Margaret Sullavan began her career onstage with the University Players and later became well-known as a film actress, receiving an Academy Award nomination for best actress for the motion picture Three Comrades in 1938.

    Unfortunately, this famous Hollywood actress suffered from mental health issues and substance abuse throughout her life, and her family members are known to have suffered from mental illness as well. Sullavan passed away in 1960 at the age of 50.

    About Margaret Sullavan

    Margaret Brooke Sullavan was born in 1909 in Norfolk, Virginia to a wealthy family, including her stockbroker father Cornelius Sullavan and mother Garland Brooke Sullavan.


    Early in her career, Margaret Sullavan appeared in numerous films with well-known actors of the time, such as James Stewart. In 1929, she was performing in broadway productions with the University Players and actor Henry Fonda.

    Sullavan would later go one to marry Henry Fonda, her first husband. After they separated, Sullavan continued with her career, working on the film The Good Fairy. Director William Wyler and Sullavan began a relationship during this time.

    However, Sullavan’s marriage to William Wyler dissolved and she married her third husband Leland Hayward in 1936. Hayward had been Sullavan’s agent since 1931. She had three children with Hayward, Brooke Hayward, William Hayward III, and Bridget Hayward.

    12 years later, Sullavan divorced Wyler. She remarried one final time to Kenneth Wagg, her husband up until her death in 1960.


    Quite the actress, Margaret Sullavan appeared in numerous television shows and films. Some of these include:

    • No Sad Songs For Me
    • Next Time We Love
    • The Shining Hour
    • I Loved A Soldier
    • Studio One
    • Cry ‘Havoc’
    • Appointment for Love
    • The Shopworn Angel
    • Little Man, What Now?
    • Back Street
    • So Ends Our Night
    • Only Yesterday
    • The Mortal Storm
    • The Shop Around the Corner
    • So Red the Rose

    How Margaret Sullavan Died

    Sullavan’s cause of death was ruled as an accidental overdose of barbiturates by the county coroner. Sullavan was found in a hotel room in New Haven, Connecticut, but pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital.

    Sullavan’s death was ruled an accidental drug overdose. In 2013, many years after her death, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry.

    Margaret Sullavan’s History Of Mental Health Issues

    Margaret Sullavan had a history of mental health issues, some of which were described in detail by her daughter Brooke Hayward in the best-selling book Haywire in 1981. The memoir later became a tv film also titled Haywire.

    Sullavan’s youngest children Bridget and William III informed Sullavan they wished to stay with their father William Wyler permanently in 1955 after Sullavan and Wyler divorced. During this time, it was reported Sullavan suffered from a nervous breakdown.

    Family History Of Mental Illness

    During 1960, the same year Sullavan died from a barbiturate overdose, her 21-year-old daughter Bridget also passed away from a drug overdose, although Bridget’s death was ruled a suicide. 

    In addition to this odd turn of events, decades later in 2008, Sullavan’s son William III Hayward died by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot.

    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in every 5 American adults experience a form of mental illness in any given year. 

    The struggles of mental health problems in the Sullavan family is a reminder of the importance of strong support systems and mental health awareness.

    Did Margaret Sullavan Attend Treatment For Mental Health?

    In Brooke Hayward’s memoir, the writer discusses Sullavan’s mental breakdown. Despite depression and erratic behavior, Sullavan spent two and a half months in a mental institution.

    Not only did Sullavan suffer from various mental health issues throughout her life, she suffered from otosclerosis and deafness in her later years. Despite spending time at a mental health facility, her health declined due to severe depression associated with hearing loss.

    Recovery Is Possible

    For those of you struggling with drug use or mental health conditions, consider seeking help from a family member or a trusted loved one. With a good support system behind you, professional treatment can help pave the way for a successful recovery.

    To learn how we can help patients living with mental health and substance use issues, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    California Digital Newspaper Collection - Actress Margaret Sullavan Dies
    Hollywood Walk of Fame - Margaret Sullavan
    IMDb - Margaret Sullavan
    LA Times - Margaret Sullavan
    National Alliance on Mental Illness - Individuals with Mental Illness
    Time - Broadway: Missed Cues

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on February 14, 2023
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