Tuesday August 10, 2010

Patricia Neal, Hollywood Actress and Pro-Life Advocate, Dies at 84

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 10, 2010 ( – Patricia Neal, an actress whose long career began during the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” passed away Sunday in her home at the age of 84. But for the pro-life community, Neal is remembered as a strong advocate who turned grief from her own abortion into positive pro-life example for others.

According to the Associated Press, a family friend said that Neal finally succumbed to her battle with lung cancer at her home on Martha’s Vineyard.

The actress performed both in Hollywood and on Broadway, and starred in films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the science fiction classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “In Harm’s Way” with co-star John Wayne, and many others. Neal’s performance in “Hud” would win her the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actress.

But Patricia Neal’s life was filled with both triumph and tragedy. Her four-month-old son Theo was struck and nearly killed in his stroller by a New York taxi in 1960, and left permanently brain-damaged. Her daughter Olivia, 7, died of measles encephalitis two years later, and Neal herself suffered a stroke from three burst brain aneurysms, while pregnant with her fourth daughter, Lucy. Her husband, well-known author Roald Dahl, was a driving force in his wife’s recovery, but their 30-year marriage resulted in divorce when Neal discovered her husband was carrying on an affair with one of her longtime friends.

Despite all this, Neal’s abortion of her unborn child was the greatest sorrow of her life.

For three years Neal carried on an affair with Gary Cooper, then 47 years old and married, in 1949 when she was 23. The pair, which played opposite each other in the film version of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” discovered that Neal was pregnant.

Neal revealed in 1988 in her autobiography, “As I am”, that she succumbed to the pressure put on her by Cooper and believed that having a baby out of wedlock would end her time in Hollywood.

“If I had only one thing to do over in my life,” she wrote, “I would have that baby.”

Perhaps that was one underlying motivation for Neal’s public support of her fellow actress Ingrid Bergman, who gave birth to her own child out of wedlock in 1950, exposing her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. For that, Bergman was denounced as “Hollywood’s apostle of degradation” by the U.S. Senate. Neal would later tell PEOPLE magazine in 1988 that she wished she had Bergman’s bravery to give birth to her own child, rather than succumb to the pressure to cover up the pregnancy and the affair.

Monsignor Jim Lisante, a longtime friend of Neal and Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rockville Center, NY, told the 2003 National Right to Life Committee’s Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner audience that the actress told him 20 years earlier that aborting her child was the greatest tragedy in her life.

“Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child,” said Neal, according to Lisante. “And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby.”

Lisante told the pro-life advocates gathered that evening that Neal would reach out many times to other women contemplating abortion saying, “Don’t make my mistake. Let your baby live.”

Lisante also said that Maria Cooper, daughter of Gary Cooper, became friends with Neal after she ended the affair and told the actress that it took her longer to forgive Neal for aborting her baby brother or sister, than for the adulterous affair with her father.

The Catholic priest presided over Neal’s funeral today. Neal had converted to the Catholic faith largely through the efforts of Maria Cooper, who brought her to visit a convent, where the prioress, Sister Dolores, was a former actress herself.

Jennifer O’Neill, a Hollywood actress, author, and speaker, paid tribute to Neal as a fellow pro-life advocate and post-abortive mother.

“It is fantastic when ‘celebrities’ use their recognition as a platform for truly life-changing issues, not just entertainment,” O’Neill told in a statement. “As the spokesperson for SILENT NO MORE Awareness Campaign – a voice for post-abortive healing – I commiserate with Patricia and applaud her for her efforts on behalf of the unborn. God bless.”

Besides her public advocacy for the pro-life movement, the New York Times reports that Neal also put great time, money, and effort into creating the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. The center serves brain injured children and adults, and the Times reports that Neal, who was once paralyzed as a result of her own brain injury, repeated time and again that the value of life is never diminished by brain injuries, no matter how severe.

“Patricia Neal, through her regret over abortion, took that regret and formed it into positive energy by being a support to some of the right-to-life causes that were dear to her heart,” said Janet Morana, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.

Neal’s message as a woman and actress who regretted her abortion, Morana said, “will help others to realize that abortion is not solving women’s problems. It is creating many others.”

While Morana was not aware if Neal had ever gone through a post-abortion healing program, such as Rachel’s Vineyard, she said, “I’m sure right now she’s at peace.”

Individuals interested in reading about mother’s regretting their abortion can visit the Silent No More Awareness Campaign website or


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