David Niven, born James David Graham Niven (March 1, 1910 - July 29, 1983), was an English actor who achieved the unusual distinction of success in both the British and the Hollywood film industry.
He was born in London, England, the son of William Edward Graham Niven and Henrietta Julia de Gacher. His father died during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and his mother remarried Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt. After attending Stowe as a boy Niven trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which gave him the "officer and gentleman" bearing that was to be his trademark. Niven often claimed that he was born in Kirriemuir in Scotland which he believed sounded more romantic than London.
Arriving in Hollywood during the 1930s, he first worked as an extra in westerns, then had a walk-on part in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty and progressed to leading man in MGM comedies such as Bachelor Mother (1939).
During World War II he served in the British army, rising to the rank of colonel in the British Commandos and landing at Normandy.
He resumed his career afterwards with roles such as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days and James Bond in the unofficial series spoof Casino Royale.
He won an Academy Award for his performance in Separate Tables (1958).
Late in life, he gained critical acclaim for his memoirs of his acting career, The Moon's A Balloon (1971) and Bring On the Empty Horses (1975).
In 1940, Niven married Primula Susan Rollo (1918-1946), the aristocratic daughter of a British pilot; they had two sons, David Jr. and Jamie. She died at age 28 of a fractured skull and brain lacerations, after accidentally falling down flight of stone steps during a hide-and-seek party at the home of Tyrone Power; she had mistakenly opened a door and stepped inside, apparently thinking it was a closet. She died one day later.
Niven's second wife, whom he married in 1948, ten days after they met, was Hjordis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1921-1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model and frustrated actress. They had two adopted daughters, Kristin and Fiona, one of whom has long been rumored to be Niven's child by another fashion model, Mona Gunnarson. The marriage was as tumultuous as Niven's previous marriage had been happy. Thwarted from an acting career by her lack of talent, Hjordis Niven began having public affairs with other men and soon became an alcoholic. Bitter, estranged, and plagued by depression, she showed up drunk at Niven's funeral, after having been convinced to attend by family friend Rainier III of Monaco.
Niven died in Switzerland in 1983 of Motor Neurone Disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
- "It really is amazing. Can you imagine being wonderfully overpaid for dressing up and playing games? It's like being Peter Pan" -- David Niven
- "I don't think his acting ever quite achieved the brilliance or the polish of his dinner-party conversations." -- John Mortimer
- "The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping... and showing his shortcomings." David Niven, commenting on the streaker who crossed the stage while he was hosting the Academy Awards in 1974. His remarks appeared to be off-the-cuff, but were, in fact, prepared beforehand.