Dame Angela Lansbury has died at the age of 96. A five-time Tony winner, three-time Oscar nominee, and eighteen-time Emmy nominee, Lansbury was an icon of the stage and screen and one of the most beloved actors of all time.
Angela Brigid Lansbury was born on October 16, 1925, in Regent’s Park, London. Her father Edgar was a British politician and her mother, Moyna Macgill, was an Irish actress. Angela had an older half-sister, Isolde Denham, from her mom’s first marriage, and younger twin brothers named Bruce and Edgar. Lansbury knew she wanted to perform from a young age, studying piano before turning to acting at age fifteen. In 1940, with the onset of the Blitz, Macgill took her three youngest children to the US (Isolde was married by then, and Edgar Sr. passed away when Lansbury was nine). The family settled in New York, where Lansbury earned a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing and began studying at the Feagin School of Drama located at Carnegie Hall.
In 1942, the family moved to Los Angeles; one fateful night, at a party hosted by her mother, Lansbury met playwright John Van Druten, who had just co-written a screenplay for an upcoming motion picture, Gaslight. Lansbury, just seventeen years old at the time, secured a role in the film, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the next eight decades, Lansbury starred in some of the most iconic films, television series, and theater productions of all time.
A brief marriage to Richard Cromwell imploded after less than a year (Cromwell was gay and hoped that the marriage would “turn” him heterosexual), though the two remained lifelong friends. In 1946, Lansbury met the love of her life, actor Peter Shaw; the two were married in 1949 and had two children, Anthony and Deirdre. Lansbury and Shaw remained married until his death in 2003; they have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
By all accounts, Lansbury was kind and generous; in researching this piece, I’ve found no evidence to the contrary. During her time on Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury put pressure on casting to hire actors “of a certain age” who weren’t working enough to maintain their medical benefits through the Screen Actors Guild. She sponsored charities that worked to combat domestic abuse and provide support for people with substance abuse issues (her son Anthony is a substance abuse survivor). She supported LGBTQ+ rights and joined the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. She rescued her daughter from the Manson family.
Lansbury passed away in her sleep on October 11. Today would have been her 97th birthday. She left behind a lasting legacy, with more than 100 film and television credits in addition to her work on the stage. In honor of this absolute legend, here are fifteen of her most iconic performances.
Lansbury was just seventeen years old when she landed her first film, George Cukor’s masterpiece Gaslight. For her role as conniving cockney maid Nancy, Lansbury garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 17th Academy Awards.
- National Velvet
Lansbury made her second film appearance in 1944’s National Velvet, portraying the older sister of Elizabeth Taylor’s titular character. Lansbury and Taylor remained lifelong friends.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray
In 1945, Lansbury received her second consecutive Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her performance as the doomed tavern singer Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
- The Manchurian Candidate
Lansbury received her final Oscar nomination for 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. For her role as Eleanor Iselin, a leading candidate for “Worst Mother Ever”, Lansbury won the Golden Globe and National Board of Review awards for Best Supporting Actress.
In the 1960s, with film roles fewer and farther between, Lansbury turned to the stage, with spectacular results. Her first starring role, as the titular character in Jerry Herman’s 1966 Mame, garnered Lansbury her first of five Tony Awards.
Fun fact: For the 1974 film adaptation, Lansbury lost the role of Mame to Lucille Ball. She was reportedly heartbroken, but she continued her successful stage career, earning three more Leading Actress in a Musical Tonys over the next thirteen years.
- Dear World
In 1969, Lansbury reunited with Jerry Herman for Dear World – and won her second Tony Award in the process.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks
In 1971, Lansbury made one of her most beloved film appearances, as benevolent witch Eglantine Price in Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks. For her performance, Lansbury was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
In the mid-70s, Lansbury starred in both the West End and Broadway productions of a revival of Gypsy. For her role as Rose, the ultimate stage mother, Lansbury received her third Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical.
- Death on the Nile
Lansbury received a BAFTA nod for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the constantly sauced romance novelist Salome Otterbourne in the 1978 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
Fun fact: Lansbury and her Death on the Nile co-star Peter Ustinov were in-laws for a time (Ustinov was married for ten years to Lansbury’s half-sister Isolde Denham).
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
In 1979, Lansbury earned her fourth Tony for Stephen Sondheim’s iconic Sweeney Todd. As gleefully malevolent baker Mrs. Lovett, Lansbury also received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for the PBS Great Performances production that aired in 1985.
- Murder, She Wrote
In her late fifties, Lansbury became a bona fide television star with the premiere of Murder, She Wrote in 1984. For her iconic performance as mystery author/amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher, Lansbury earned twelve consecutive Emmy nominations (one for each season the series aired).
Fun fact: Lansbury holds the record for the most Emmy nominations – eighteen – without a win.
- Beauty and the Beast
In 1991, Lansbury was introduced to a new generation of fans when she provided the voice of Mrs. Potts in Disney’s iconic Beauty and the Beast.
- Blithe Spirit (2009 Broadway, 2014 West End)
Lansbury won her final competitive Tony as well as her one and only Olivier Award for her performance as Madame Arcati in Noël Coward’s comic masterpiece Blithe Spirit.
- Little Women
Lansbury made her final television appearance as Aunt March in 2017’s BBC production of Little Women.
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Lansbury’s final film will be the eagerly-awaited Knives Out sequel, in which she plays herself. Obviously, she’s going to nail it.
Some other fun stuff: