Shortly after the tour, Leigh became sick with coughing fits and fevers and was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis in her left lung.
The actress spent several weeks in the hospital, during which time Olivier wrote to her constantly. Though she was advised to stop acting, Leigh persisted with her longtime passion. While filming Caesar and Cleopatra in , Leigh learned she was pregnant but soon suffered a miscarriage , which is said to have happened after the actress slipped on set. This sent her into a deep depression, and Leigh was so distraught that she would sometimes fall into hysteric crying fits on the floor. This would be the first of many bipolar disorder breakdowns to come.
At this point, Leigh had learned to recognize her symptoms before an episode, which involved several days of hyperactivity followed by a deep depression and a breakdown consisting of shivering fits and swear-filled tirades, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Often, Leigh would not remember any of this happening but would feel sorry for those around her once they told her what she had done.
Leigh took a break from filming and was never able to fully recover enough to continue the focus on the role of Cleopatra. Leigh, not feeling well enough to work again just yet, accompanied Olivier to watch his performances. Olivier was later knighted in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, which granted Leigh the title of Lady Olivier. Leigh suffered severe insomnia at the time, and would sometimes let her understudy replace her in performances as she recovered.
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Still, the actress was dedicated to her career and did her best to keep up with the demands of the tour. But their relationship slowly dwindling during this time, abd Olivier and Leigh would often get into heated arguments over her mood swings, which were becoming increasingly difficult for Olivier to manage. Their worst argument occurred backstage in Christchurch, New Zealand, when Leigh refused to go onstage with Olivier because her shoes were missing. Frustrated with her behavior, Olivier slapped Leigh in the face publicly and she slapped him back.
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Even though her marriage was failing, Leigh did not let her passion for acting dwindle. The play was a huge success and Leigh went on to portray DuBois in the film version. This negative review made Leigh become fixated on failure and terrified of receiving other negative criticisms.source site
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Leigh's erratic behavior included wandering naked through the gardens at night and sometimes falling into bed with strangers, The Hollywood Reporter reports. But whether or not the reports were true, Leigh and Olivier did not give up on their marriage. The couple continued to appear together onstage, but their performances suffered as a result of their increasing lack of chemistry.
During the time she was in a production of South Sea Bubble , Leigh learned that she was pregnant once again and withdrew from the play as a result. But after her final performance onstage, the actress suffered another miscarriage , sending her into another period of depression that lasted several months. While on tour with Olivier for his role in Titus Andronicus , Leigh would have frequent outbursts directed at her husband and other members of the production.
By , having kept up appearances for nearly 10 years, Leigh considered her marriage to be over. She began seeing actor Jack Merivale, who knew of her tuberculosis and promised Olivier he would take care of her. At the same time, Olivier began an affair with actress Joan Plowright, who was 22 years younger than him. By , Leigh was threatening to commit suicide. Olivier and Leigh went on with divorce proceedings in May of The divorce was finalized later that year and Olivier went on to marry Plowright.
The couple later had a son and two daughters. Even though they were no longer together, Olivier and Leigh continued to write to one another every now and then.
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Since her divorce from Olivier, Leigh enjoyed great success onstage and on the silver screen. Her depression continued to plague her during this time, but Leigh put her all into her performances. Her final film was 's Ship of Fools. Her fragile mental state made every day of filming more and more difficult, but she managed to finished and Ship of Fools received rave reviews. However, her tuberculosis recurred and she was put on bed rest for several weeks. Her husband, Jack Merivale, left her at home while he went to perform in a play in Eaton Square.
When he returned around midnight, he found Leigh asleep in bed. Half an hour later, he checked in to find her body on the ground. It appeared Leigh had attempted to walk to the bathroom and collapsed due to her lungs filling with liquid, according to Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Anne Edwards. Merivale had moved her body onto the bed, and Olivier "stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprung up between us," according to his authorized biography by Terry Coleman. Olivier helped Merivale make funeral arrangements and stayed with Leigh until her body was removed.
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On July 8, Vivien Leigh was announced dead, and every theater in London's West End extinguished their marquee lights for one hour in her honor. According to The Guardian , in one final letter addressed to Leigh only five weeks before her death, Olivier signed, "Sincerest love darling, your Larry. Olivier died of renal failure on July 11, , at the age of 82 at his home in West Sussex. Even after his marriage to Plowright, Olivier held Leigh dear in his heart for the rest of his life. Each week, our editors select the one author and one book they believe to be most worthy of your attention and highlight them in our Pro Connect email alert.
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