NBC’s annual airing of It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday TV tradition. Ahead of its 2020 broadcast, here’s what you need to know about who from the cast is still alive and how and when the main players — Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore — died.
Seven Cast Members Are Still Living
Among the adults in the cast, only one is still alive — the movie did come out 74 years ago, after all. But Virginia Patton, who played Ruth Dakin Bailey, Georgia Bailey’s sister-in-law, in the film, is still alive at the age of 95. Seven years ago, she spoke with the National Catholic Register about her experience making the film and her decision to leave Hollywood in 1949 to raise her family in Michigan.
Patton told the NCR that she and director Frank Capra always kept in touch and that after he died in 1991, she thinks “Frank ended up getting his wings” just like Clarence the guardian angel in the film.
She also said that both Capra and star Stewart were wonderful to work with and that she still gets letters from people talking about the effect the film had on them.
The other living cast members are all children from the film: Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey), Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey). Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey), Jeanine Ann Roose (young Violet Bick), Jean Gale (young Mary Hatch), and Ronnie Ralph (young Sam Wainwright).
Jimmy Stewart’s Cause of Death
This Oscar-winning actor was 38 when It’s a Wonderful Life came out. Over the years, he received five Academy Award nominations for acting, including for Wonderful Life, but Stewart only won one time — for the 1940 comedy The Philadelphia Story. He died in 1997 at the age of 89 after suffering a heart attack caused by a pulmonary embolism.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Gloria, who died in 1994 of lung cancer. Stewart adopted her two sons from a previous relationship, Ronald, who was killed in Vietnam at the age of 24, and Michael, who is still living. Together, Gloria and Stewart had twin daughters named Judy and Kelly, both of whom are also still alive.
Donna Reed’s Cause of Death
This Oscar-winning actress was just 25 when It’s a Wonderful Life was released. She earned an Oscar for From Here to Eternity, then became known for her iconic TV role of a mother and housewife on The Donna Reed Show.
Reed died suddenly in 1986 at the age of 64 after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer just three months prior. She was survived by her husband, Grover Asmus, and four children from a previous marriage, Penny Jane, Anthony, Timothy, and Mary Anne.
Lionel Barrymore’s Cause of Death
This legend of stage and screen portrayed the dastardly, money-hoarding Mr. Henry Potter in the 1946 film. He was 68 years old at the time and would only live another eight years after its release. Barrymore died in 1954 at the age of 76. According to the Los Angeles Times obituary, Barrymore died of a heart attack in Van Nuys, California.
He was the oldest brother in a family of actors. His parents were actors Georgiana Drew Barrymore and Maurice Barrymore, his siblings were actors John Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, his niece and nephew John and Diana were actors, and his great-niece Drew Barrymore is a well-known modern-day actress. He was preceded in death by two daughters, Ethel and Mary, neither of whom lived past the age of two.
It’s a Wonderful Life airs Thursday, December 24 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.