Don't take anything too seriously – it'll all work out in the end
Handsome, urbane and funny, David Niven was one of the last British-born stars of Hollywood’s golden age.
Niven came across as the perfect English gentleman both on and off screen, in films including A Matter of Life and Death and Around the World in Eighty Days. Off-screen, he had an attractively rakish charm.
A born raconteur, not adverse to embroidering details for maximum effect, Niven had lived a colourful life even before he became a star. Expelled from several schools, he served in the Army before apparently simply arriving in Hollywood and becoming a screen idol.
Packed with page-turning and hair-raising anecdotes, his autobiographies The Moon’s a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses were bestsellers and are still among the best show business books ever written. Amid the highs and hellraising with pals including Errol Flynn, there was also sadness for Niven during his early years in Hollywood, when his first wife Primmie died in a tragic accident just a few weeks after the family had arrived to Los Angeles.
When the Second World War was declared, Niven quit Hollywood and rejoined the Army – transferring to the Commandos. He also made appearances in two morale-boosting British films during his time in service. He was present during the Allies’ Normandy invasion and ahead of one battle, is said to have told his men: “Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!”
Ruled out by director Cubby Broccoli as “too old” to play Bond in the 1960s, Niven actor did take on the role for the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale. In the later years of his career, he cropped up in films including Death on the Nile and two Pink Panther sequels. He spent the last few years of his life quietly in Switzerland, after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease.
“I see my purpose in life as making the world a happier place to be in,” he once said - and he certainly did.