August 9, 2010 / 9:50 AM / in 7 years

Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal dies aged 84

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal, whose life was marred by tragedy, has died at the age of 84, her family said.

<p>Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal is shown during ceremonies unveiling Neal's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in Hollywood, May 20, 2005. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

The husky-voiced Neal won an Academy Award for her role in the 1963 film “Hud” alongside Paul Newman and boasted a long list of stage, film and TV credits alongside Hollywood’s leading men including Ronald Reagan, John Wayne and Tyrone Powers.

“She faced her final illness as she had all of the many trials she endured: with indomitable grace, good humor, and a great deal of her self-described stubbornness,” the family said in a statement.

It added that Neal died on Sunday morning at her home on Martha’s Vineyard surrounded by relatives. She had been suffering from lung cancer, according to media reports.

Neal once had a love affair with actor Gary Cooper with whom she starred in “The Fountainhead” and “Bright Leaf” but it ended in disaster after his wife found out, leaving Neal broken-hearted, according to an obituary in the LA Times.

She was married to the British writer Roald Dahl for 30 years with whom she had five children.

Their son, however, suffered severe injuries after being hit by a taxi when he just four months old and their oldest child, daughter Olivia, died at the age of 7 from measles.

When Neal was pregnant with their fifth child in 1965 she suffered three massive strokes and was in a coma for three weeks.

But with the help of her husband, she recovered and gave birth to a healthy daughter Lucy and returned to films, acting in “The Subject Was Roses.”

“I think I was born stubborn, that’s all,” Neal said in a biography on the website of the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center that was dedicated in her honor in 1978 by the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

She was raised in Knoxville where her parents gave her acting lessons as a Christmas present when she was 12.

She headed to New York after two years at Northwestern University and summer theater work in Pennsylvania to start a career on the stage that led her to Hollywood -- and into many real-life tragedies.

“I almost died many times from broken hearts - when my daughter Olivia died, when my baby son Theo was hit by a car, and when I had my strokes. There were many who didn’t think I would pull through,” said Neal in her biography.

“I had to have an operation that lasted seven hours, and I know very well my doctor thought I would conk out in the middle of it; but as I told him later, we Tennessee hillbillies don’t conk that easy, so I stayed alive.”

Neal’s marriage to Dahl ended after 30 years in 1983 after the writer had an affair with one of her friends and she moved from England to the United States where she split her time between New York and Martha’s Vineyard.

But she continued to act, appearing with Glenn Close in the movie “Cookie’s Fortune” in 1999 and was featured in Lifetime’s television movie “Flying By” with Billy Ray Cyrus in 2009.

Neal wrote in her biography on the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center website that growing old was no fun.

“I’ve learned many lessons in life, but the most important is this - be tenacious and determined, even in old age,” said Neal.

“I don’t like getting older. I thought I would, but it has turned out differently than I expected. Lately I’ve had both my shoulder and my knee replaced. So, what should I be happy about? I’ll tell you - it is nice to be able to get these things fixed!”

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Paul Casciato

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