George Bernard Shaw considered his very highly regarded "Hamlet" one of the worst performances of the role he had ever seen, and in a blistering letter accused him of indulging his own ego at the expense of William Shakespeare.
After Barrymore's death, his friends - including Errol Flynn and Raoul Walsh - gathered at a bar to commiserate on John's passing. Walsh, claiming he was too upset, pretended to go home. Instead, he and two friends went to the funeral home and bribed the caretaker to lend them Barrymore's body. Transporting it to Flynn's house, it was propped up in Errol's favorite living room chair. Flynn arrived and described his reaction in his autobiography: "As I opened the door I pressed the button. The lights went on and - I stared into the face of Barrymore... They hadn't embalmed him yet. I let out a delirious scream... I went back in, still shaking. I retired to my room upstairs shaken and sober. My heart pounded. I couldn't sleep the rest of the night."
Barrymore left specific instructions that he be cremated and his ashes be buried next to his parents in the family cemetery in Philadelphia. However, as his brother Lionel Barrymore and sister Ethel Barrymore were Catholic and cremation had not was not sanctioned by the Church, the executors (Lionel and Mervyn LeRoy) had Barrymore's remains entombed at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. In 1980, John Drew Barrymore decided to have his dad cremated, and recruited his son John Blyth Barrymore to help. They removed the casket from its crypt, drove it to the Odd Fellows Cemetery, and made the preparations. John Jr. insisted on having a look inside before they left. After viewing the body, he came out white as a sheet, got in the car and said to his son, "Thank God I'm drunk, I'll never remember it.".
Courted showgirl Evelyn Nesbit as her involvement with married architect Stanford White was waning. When she became pregnant Barrymore proposed marriage, but White intervened and arranged for the still-teenaged Miss Nesbit to undergo an operation for "appendicitis." White was later murdered by Nesbit's vengeful husband, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw.
For his performance in Beau Brummel (1924) he was given a special self-created award from Rudolph Valentino.
Grandfather of Drew Barrymore
Had a daughter, Dolores Ethel Blyth Barrymore (b. 8 April 1930) with wife Dolores Costello.
He was the greatest Hamlet and Richard III of his time, and he is still considered the greatest American actor to play those roles.
He was, after John Gielgud, the most acclaimed Hamlet of the 20th century (his realization of the role in London influenced Laurence Olivier's own later interpretation of Hamlet, in 1937 on stage and in 1948 on film. Ironically, Ethel Barrymore denounced Olivier's film Hamlet, which brought him an Academy Award as Best Actor). From 1922, when he staged his first Hamlet, until 1975, when Sam Waterston essayed the role, Barrymore and Walter Hampden were the only American actors to play Hamlet on Broadway. Barrymore put on a second production in 1923, while Hampden played the role three times on the Great White Way, in 1918, in 1925 (with Ethel Barrymore as his Ophelia), and in 1929. Stephen Lang, who played the great Dane on the Great White Way in 1992, is the only other American in more than three-quarters of a century to star in "Hamlet" on Broadway. In that time Hamlet was played mostly by British performers, particularly Maurice Evans, an English immigrant who became an American citizen and who was the only other actor other than Hampden since World War I to play Hamlet three times on the Broadway stage.
His 1922 "Hamlet" was the longest-running Broadway production of the play with 101 performances until John Gielgud played the part for 132 performances in 1936.
His birth certificate lists 14 February as birth date, which conflicts with the family Bible which says 15 February. His World War I draft record and Social Security records state February 15.
His sharp wit never left him, even when he was dying. A priest came to administer the last rites, accompanied by an exceedingly homely nurse. When the priest asked him if he had anything to confess, Barrymore replied, "Yes, Father. I am guilty, at this moment, of having carnal thoughts." "About whom?," replied the shocked priest. "About HER!," he replied, indicating the nurse.
In 1920 lived at 134 W. 4th Street in Manhattan.
One night, while drunk, he accidentally went into a women's restroom, instead of a men's room, and proceeded to relieve his bladder in a potted plant. A woman standing nearby reminded him that the room was "for ladies exclusively." Turning around, his penis still exposed, Barrymore responded, "So, madam, is this. But every now and again, I'm compelled to run a little water through it." This incident later made its way, verbatim, into My Favorite Year (1982), where the Barrymore- inspired character of Alan Swann, played by Peter O'Toole, is involved in a similar situation.
Rebaptized as a Roman Catholic after his mother's secret conversion, of the Barrymore siblings only Ethel Barrymore remained a devout Catholic.
Son of Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Barrymore; grandson of Louisa Drew and actor John Drew (1827-62); nephew of Sidney Drew; cousin of S. Rankin Drew; uncle of Samuel Colt, Ethel Colt, and John Drew Colt.
Supported his brother Lionel Barrymore when Lionel's wife Doris Rankin (a long-ago girlfriend of John's) died, and filled in for Lionel as Ebenezer Scrooge in an annual radio production of "A Christmas Carol" on the day after Doris' death (December 25, 1936).