While doing in-depth research into 1950s Hollywood for our Skylar Drake Mystery series, we came across Hollywood personalities that shocked and amazed us. Really. You can't make this stuff up!
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."
Audi Murphy was the most decorated U.S, soldier of WWII, returning home as a hero. He became an actor starring in his own story, To Hell and Back. Though he was only 21 years old at the end of the war, he had been wounded three times, had earned 33 awards and medals. After the war, he appeared in more than 40 films. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder throughout his life.
LIFE magazine honored the brave, handsome soldier by putting him on the cover of its July 16, 1945 issue. That photograph inspired actor James Cagney to call Murphy and invite him to Hollywood to begin an acting career. Despite his celebrity, Murphy struggled for years to gain recognition.
In 1949, Murphy published his autobiography, To Hell and Back. The book quickly became a national bestseller, and in 1955, after much inner debate, he decided to portray himself in the film version of his book. The movie was a hit and held Universal Studio's record as its highest-grossing motion picture until 1975. Murphy would go on to make 44 feature films in all. In addition to acting, he became a successful country music songwriter, and many of his songs were recorded by well-known artists, such as Dean Martin, Jerry Wallace and Harry Nilsson.
During his rise to fame, Murphy met and married 21-year old actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1950. He married again in 1951, this time to Pamela Archer, with whom he had two children. Plagued by insomnia and nightmares, a condition that would eventually become known as post-traumatic stress disorder, Murphy became addicted to sleeping pills. In his later years, Audie Murphy squandered his fortune on gambling and bad investments and was in financial ruin.
He died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971. The aircraft crashed into the side of Brushy Mountain, northwest of Roanoke, Virginia. Murphy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 7, 1971, and was given full military honors.