Every Famous Barrymore Family Member (Including Drew)

Every Famous Barrymore Family Member (Including Drew)

Family acting dynasties have been around long before Hollywood, and the best example of a family that continued through nearly every step of acting’s evolution is the famous Barrymore family, including film star Drew Barrymore. While certain modern Hollywood families have grown into all aspects of filmmaking, like the famous members of the Coppola family, the Barrymores are significant for being known simply as an “acting family.” The family is also notable for adopting a stage name that has continued throughout generations, as many of their birth surnames were “Blythe,” whereafter they either took Barrymore as their legal last name or stage name.

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The Barrymores aren’t the only acting dynasties that still have prominent members today. Other families include the Coppolas (as previously mentioned), the Arquette family, the Baldwin brothers, the Fonda family, and the Carradine family. Interestingly, many of these families tend to take up different areas of acting or filmmaking, such as the Carradines being notable for Westerns, the Coppolas for gangster movies, the Fondas for drama, and the Baldwins, especially Alec Baldwin, for comedy like Saturday Night Live. The Barrymores have also been known for dramatic and comedic roles over the years, which isn’t surprising when considering their roots in vaudeville.

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Although only one notable Barrymore member holds up their acting legacy today, many have come and gone over the years to solidify themselves as one of the greatest examples of Hollywood royalty of all time. Not to mention they also have roots coming from the family of the Barrymore matriarch, Georgie Drew Barrymore, whose Drew family branch has also extended to some notable actors in the early 1900s. Here’s a breakdown of the famous Barrymore family members and their legacies in Hollywood.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore talk show

The only modern famous Barrymore family member is Drew, who has been acting since she was 11 months old in commercials. At only 7 years old, Drew became one of the most famous actors in the world after starring as Gertie in Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Thereafter, she became the youngest actor ever to guest-host Saturday Night Live and starred in a few successful ‘80s movies like Stephen King’s Firestarter and Cat’s Eye. After bouts of controversy for personal reasons in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Drew’s career was completely revitalized in the late ‘90s after her famous short appearance in Scream and her further dive into comedic roles like Never Been Kissed and The Wedding Singer.

The 2000s proved even more successful for Barrymore, leading to notable roles in Charlie’s Angels, Donnie Darko, 50 First Dates, Fever Pitch, and Grey Gardens. In 2009, Barrymore also shifted into directing with her debut Whip It, which was received positively by critics. Drew continued to star in films periodically in the 2010s, including features like Blended, though was more notable for starring in Netflix’s original TV series, the now-canceled Santa Clarita Diet (2017-2019). In 2020, Barrymore became the host of her own syndicated daytime talk show, The Drew Barrymore Show, which has already been renewed for a third season. While she’ll still be a presence in Hollywood with her talk show and ever-lasting fame, Barrymore revealed on Radio Andy in March 2021 that she will be taking an indefinite hiatus from acting.

Lionel Barrymore

It's a Wonderful Life - Sometimes the Villian wins

A man who continues to live on today through his most famous role, Lionel Barrymore was considered one of the greatest Hollywood actors back in the 1930s and ‘40s. Lionel was in the first set of Barrymores to come to wide acclaim along with his brother John and sister Ethel. The son of theatrical legends Maurice and Georgie Barrymore, Lionel began his stage career in the early 1900s on various Broadway musical shows, starring in the critically acclaimed play The Mummy and the Hummingbird (1902). In the late 1910s, Lionel began to establish himself as a silent film actor, starring in a number of leading roles for director D.W. Griffith.

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After years of notoriety, Lionel took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1931 for his role in A Free Soul while having been nominated for Best Director for Madame X the year before. Lionel later appeared in critically acclaimed films like the Dr. Kildare series, Grand Hotel opposite his brother, You Can’t Take It With You, and Key Largo throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s. During this time, he starred in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic and initial box office flop, It’s a Wonderful Life where he played his most famous character Mr. Potter, the grouchy banker who serves as the antagonist for George Bailey. In the last two decades before his passing in 1954, Lionel Barrymore was also best-known for portraying Ebenezer Scrooge in annual broadcasts of A Christmas Carol.

John Barrymore

John Barrymore is the grandfather of Drew Barrymore through his son John Drew Barrymore. Like his brother Lionel and sister Ethel, John got his start on the stage with his parents and siblings back in the early 1900s. John found particular acclaim with his stage productions of Shakespeare, where his portrayal of Hamlet gained him notoriety as one of the greatest American tragedians of his day. Barrymore later broke into the silent film era, where he starred in popular films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and as the titular sleuth in the 1922 Sherlock Holmes movie, eventually earning him the nickname “The Great Profile.”

One of the few actors to gain even more acclaim as he moved into sound films, three of Barrymore’s most famous movies, Grand Hotel, Twentieth Century, and Midnight, have been placed in the National Film Registry. John was notable for the controversy surrounding his personal life and alcoholism in his later years, which led to studios’ hesitance in hiring him and only working in a few last films before passing in 1942. Barrymore has been widely commemorated for his contributions to the film industry, including programs, awards, and a Hollywood Star being dedicated to him.

Maurice Barrymore

The great-grandfather of Drew Barrymore and original patriarch of the Barrymore acting dynasty is Maurice Barrymore, born Herbert Blythe, an Indian-born British stage actor who emigrated to the United States in the late 1800s to begin his career. Maurice got his start on Broadway, starring in the play Pique. After the birth of his children Lionel, John, and Ethel, Maurice transitioned into Vaudeville, where he starred opposite some of the most famous actresses of that time. In 1901, Maurice was notable for an anti-semitic monologue on stage, later diagnosed as a mental breakdown whereafter he was moved into a psychiatric hospital. At the insistence of his children, Maurice’s violence and erratic behavior led him to remain in the hospital until his death in 1905.

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John Drew Barrymore

The son of John Barrymore, John Drew Barrymore Jr. was born in 1942 into the existent Barrymore dynasty, getting his first acting role at the age of 8 for various Clint Eastwood-style Western movies. Early in his career, John Drew Barrymore continued to star in small roles in films that weren’t very successful, leading him to a television career where he starred in guest roles on different anthology series in the 1950s. Barrymore then shifted back into movies where he was featured in film noirs like While the City Sleeps before venturing to Italy, where he made a number of Italian dramas. Barrymore returned to Hollywood after 5 years where he began another series of television guest star stints. For his contributions to television, John Drew Barrymore has his own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, while also being notable as the typically estranged father of 50 First Dates actress Drew Barrymore until his death in 2004.

Ethel Barrymore

Getting her start at the same time as her brothers John and Lionel, Ethel Barrymore is regarded as one of the greatest stage actresses of all time, earning the nickname “The First Lady of the American Theater.” Ethel first appeared on Broadway in 1895, whereafter she was recruited by a troupe in London to perform a tour that gave her great acclaim by men around the world, including Winston Churchill who actually proposed marriage to her. Upon returning to the U.S., Ethel became a bona fide star when playing the lead role in Captain Jinks and the Horse Marines. She continued to have a successful career on the stage, though she also occasionally appeared in films and radio broadcasts. Ethel then won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in None but the Lonely Heart (1944) opposite iconic movie actor Cary Grant. After starring in several film noirs and dramas like The Spiral Staircase and The Paradine Case, Barrymore even began her own TV series titled Ethel Barrymore Theater. After passing in 1959, Barrymore was posthumously awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 along with her brothers.

Diana Barrymore

Diana Barrymore was the daughter of John Barrymore, making her the aunt of actress Drew Barrymore. As a teenager, Barrymore decided to begin her career on the stage, which earned her a cover on Life magazine due to the family’s notoriety in the theater. At the age of 20, Diana moved into feature films where she starred in a few movies like Eagle Squadron, Nightmare, and Ladies Courageous and bit parts in a few notable film noir movies. Diana passed away in 1960 at the young age of 38 from a suspected drug overdose, but her death has long been subject to unresolved speculation due to her autopsy revealing no indication of drug overdose or a cause of death.

The Barrymore Family Curse: Is It A Real Thing?

Drew Barrymore smiling in The Wedding Singer.

Due to the high profile of the famous Barrymore family over the years, the challenges and tragedies that the family has faced have been made very public. These include Maurice’s hospitalization, Diana’s premature passing, John’s alcoholism, John Jr.’s estrangement from his family, Drew’s own struggles with addiction, and the untimely death of Drew’s half-sister Jessica Blyth Barrymore due to an accidental overdose. Because of this recurring pattern within the famous acting family, the concept of a “Barrymore family curse” was coined. But this curse, which is said to impact every generation of Barrymores up until movie star Drew Barrymore, is not a real thing.

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To refer to the Barrymores’ history of substance abuse and mental health challenges as a “curse” is to misrepresent the often genetic risk factors of addiction and the very real pressures that come from being public figures, especially one from an acting dynasty as noteworthy as the Barrymores. There’s no supernatural phenomenon preying on the Barrymore family, but addiction and the harm it can do to a family and the health of an individual are very real. The Barrymores have had their struggles, to be certain, but they are real people whose story mirrors those of untold other families that don’t have the same level of fame or resources. Addiction isn’t a curse but a treatable condition that should be recognized as such and not shamed.

Drew Barrymore’s success since her rehabilitation is a testament to the Barrymore family curse’s fictitiousness. The Charlie’s Angels cast member has made a wonderful career for herself after her battle with addiction as a young adult, amassing a $200 million fortune, starring in a significant number of well-regarded films, and now hosting her own talk show to boot. Clearly, even if the myth of the Barrymore family curse were true, Drew Barrymore has overcome it with flying colors.

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About The Author

Jordan Williams
(1046 Articles Published)

Jordan Williams is a Movie/TV Feature Senior Staff Writer for Screen Rant. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 2020 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Media Studies.

Jordan is based in Seattle, Washington and enjoys exploring the natural beauty the PNW has to offer. She runs on coffee and classic movies, taking pride in having watched every film on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list and every Best Picture Oscar winner.

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