John Osborne, the “angry young man” who transformed British theater with his blistering social dramas and won an Oscar for the “Tom Jones” screenplay, died of a heart attack Dec. 24 in Shropshire, England. He was 65.
The playwright shot to fame in 1956 with “Look Back in Anger,” a blast against the stuffy conventions of English post-war life.
Osborne, a diabetic known for his hard drinking, had been seriously ill in the hospital for more than a week.
With “Anger,” Osborne introduced the genre of the “kitchen sink drama,” a revolutionary way of writing that used everyday settings. Its hero, Jimmy Porter, became a symbol of educated rebellious youth in the’ 50s.
John James Osborne was born Dec. 12,1929. He revered his father, Thomas, a struggling commercial artist, but hated his mother, Nellie Beatrice, with a passion. The family was poor and moved frequently. The young Osborne left home to become an actor, but started writing plays at 19.
In 1956, “Look Back in Anger,” which Osborne scribbled down in a reporter’s notepad in just 17 days, shocked London legit audiences and alarmed the country.
A successful career followed, as Osborne used his anger as the inspiration for hard-hitting drama.
Osborne also wrote “The Entertainer,” “Inadmissible Evidence” and “A Patriot for Me.” He won an Oscar for best screenplay with the 1964 film “Tom Jones.”
Richard Burton starred as Jimmy Porter in the film version of “Look Back in Anger,” and Laurence Olivier took the role of Archie Rice in “The Entertainer.”
“Dejavu,” a 1992 sequel to “Look Back in Anger,” flopped.
Osborne’s private life was almost as controversial as his drama. Married five times, he gained a reputation as a hard-drinking, irascible character.
“Who wants to live to 110 anyway if it means not smoking and not drinking?” he said in a recent interview.
His 1992 autobiography “Almost a Gentleman” brought him much criticism with its vitriolic comments on colleagues and his ex-wives. He described the suicide of his fourth wife, actress Jill Bennett, as the “coarse posturing of an overheated housemaid.”
Author-playwright Sheridan Morley told BBC Radio: “He was wonderfully vindictive. He was savage about his own mother in his memoirs. He took no prisoners, gave no hostages. He was full of loathing and bile and yet there was a richness of language in John.”
Osborne also blasted British society as a journalist and in letters to newspapers. “Damn you, England,” he wrote in the leftwing weekly Tribune. “You’re rotting now, and quite soon you’ll disappear… untouchable, unteachable, impregnable.”
Osborne always claimed to be baffled by the public outrage at his scathing attacks.
“I know I am thought to be something of a monster, ” he told one interviewer. “But I am not sure I understand why.”