In the 1940s Alan Ladd was Hollywood’s hottest sensation. He rose from extreme poverty in Los Angeles, crippled by a father who deserted the family and an alcoholic mother.
Completely destitute as a child, (He held his first full-time job when he was 8 years old) he worked any odd job he could get to buy money for food. In the early 1930s, he landed a job at the studios as a grip and a film extra. In 1937, after Ladd landed his a film contract Warner Brothers, his mother, who emigrated from England, arrived at his house and asked him for money. She then took a drink from a bottle of ant poison and killed herself in front of the young actor. The suicide traumatized Ladd and he started to drink regularly. His personnel life was a mess as well. By the time he was in his late twenties he had been married and divorced twice.
He was drafted into the service during World War Two but was released to civilian life due to an ulcer and double hernia. His release made him one of the few young and upcoming leading men available for film work, and the films rolled in. By the mid-194os Ladd, who stood only 5 foot six inches and weighed under 160 pounds, was a leading star. But he was emotionally and mentally ill-equipped to handle success and fame. He considered himself homely and thought that he had no real acting abilities.
In 1942, he married Sue Carol, an actress-turned-agent. Carol handled all the business aspects of the actor life, including his considerable fortune. “She protected him, helped him in interviews, bolstered in confidence, made his life” a columnist who knew them wrote “she never seemed domineering. He remained the boss of the family while she took care of business”
Ladd's popularity was a constant puzzle to the critics who said that his acting abilities were limited by a short-range. But he remained box-office for more than 15 years, although he made only one really important film, Shane.
He was essentially washed up by the 1950s. Hs drinking, barbiturates and sleeping pills took their toll on his body and face and most of his films were flyweight material. He became a recluse which worsened his mental health. In November of 1962, he shot himself through the chest with a pistol. He survived and said it was an accident, that he had the gun in his hand when tripped causing it to go off. He said "I was alone in the house and about midnight I heard a noise. "I got out of bed, took a 38-caliber from a nightstand and started for the front. I thought it might tress a prowler. The ranch is about five miles from Caraarillo State Hospital and there have been prowlers from there in the past. I tripped over something in the dark (Later he said it was one of his five dogs) I felt a concussion and I fell. I don't know what it was. I hit the floor. I got up and took off my pajama tops, put the gun back in the nightstand and called wife, who was at our Beverly Hills home”.
His ranch foreman rushed into the room after hearing the gunfire and called the ambulance.
The police didn’t believe his story. Two years later, in 1964, Ladd, only 50 years old, was found dead at his Palm Springs home. He was laying in his pajamas in bed. He had been dead for at least 14 hours and was found by his butler. He had been drinking and mixed barbiturates and sleeping pills which killed him. The coroner called it death by natural causes, but the question remains to this day whether Ladd died by accident or by suicide.