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Why Was John Barrymore’s Corpse Stolen?

Grave robbers have been present since Egyptian times. These thieves pillaged tombs to steal jewelry and other precious belongings. In modern times, grave robbers stole carcasses to sell to medical schools for a quick buck. But some robbers have more bizarre reasons for stealing corpses. Did you hear about John Barrymore’s corpse?

Drew Barrymore’s grandfather, John Barrymore, was a Hollywood actor in the 1920s and 1930s. When he died, his corpse was stolen from the morgue by his friends as a gag, propping him up on their regular poker game.

Who was John Barrymore?

John Sidney Blythe Barrymore was born on February 15, 1882, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to stage actors Maurice and Georgiana Barrymore. Along with his siblings Ethel and Lionel, He was basically born into a family of actors.

Barrymore studied painting in France but returned to the U.S. to perform on stage in 1903. Initially known as a light comedian, he soon took on serious roles in stage plays. His acting in the plays Justice, Peter Ibbeston, The Jest, Richard III, and Hamlet led him to become the greatest tragedian of his time.

The late actor soon moved to motion pictures and gave notable performances in the 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He also starred in the movies The Beloved Rogue, Moby Dick, Rasputin and the Empress, Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight, Counsellor-at-Law, Romeo and Juliet, and The Great Profile gaining the nickname of the same name.

Barrymore was a talented and handsome actor of his time, but his flamboyant and often outrageous behavior set him apart from his peers. He was also known to have an excessive drinking habit.

Barrymore had two children who took after their father as a performer. His firstborn, Diana, was a promising actress but was consumed by alcoholism and committed suicide. Barrymore’s second-born, John Blyth Barrymore, Jr., soon became known as John Drew Barrymore, was also an actor and was the father of Drew Barrymore. (Source: Britannica)

Stolen Corpse

Barrymore passed away on May 28, 1942. His death left an empty seat in his prestigious yet rowdy gang of Bundy Drive Boys. The gang consisted of Barrymore, artist John Decker, writer Gene Fowler, art critic Sadakichi Hartmann, and co-actors Errol Flynn and W.C. Fields.

The group adopted the name Bundy Drive Boys because they always hung out in Decker’s cabin studio on Bundy Drive in Brentwood, California. The boys often partied and drank and were generally high-society mischief-makers.

A rumor spread at Barrymore’s death that the Bundy Drive Boys, specifically Fields, Flynn, and Hartmann, stole his corpse from the morgue. The story was only proven true when Barrymore’s granddaughter, Drew, confirmed it when she was interviewed by host Sean Evans, the host of YouTube’s Hot Ones.

Drew confirmed that Fields, Flynn, and Hartmann stole Barrymore’s corpse from the morgue, propped him up in their regular poker game for one final round, and threw him his farewell party. Drew Barrymore also mentioned in the interview that there were movies that showed cinematic impressions of the rumor.


Barrymore’s story was incorporated in the movies like SOB and Weekend at Bernie’s. The young Barrymore did not express contempt for the ridiculous crime her grandfather encountered but states she hopes her close friends would do the same thing for her when she passes. (Source: Mental Floss)

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