‘Beverly Hillbillies’: When and How Did Granny Actor Irene Ryan Die?

by Jon D. B.

Beverly Hillbillies icon Irene Ryan died relatively young in 1973, a story that tragically begins with a live Broadway performance.

After her incredible turn as “Granny” on The Beverly Hillbillies, Irene Ryan would be cast in the prestigious Broadway production of Pippin. Ryan took on the role of Berthe, directed by stage icon Bob Fosse. Within, she would perform the number “No Time at All,” and bring the house down every time.

By all accounts, her performance was phenomenal. She would even receive a Tony nomination for her work in the show. Then, about five months into Pippin’s run, Ryan would suffer a stroke while performing for a live Broadway audience on March 10, 1973. Afterward, she was flown to her California home on doctor’s orders. There, she would be hospitalized. It is then that an inoperable glioblastoma was found. The malignant brain tumor would later claim her life.

Irene Ryan died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California several weeks later on April 26, 1973. She was 70-years-old. According to state records, her cause of death was both her glioblastoma and arteriosclerotic heart disease.

Afterward, the Beverly Hillbillies star’s body was interred at the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in the same city of her death. There, she rests beside her sister, Anna Thompson.

During her life, cast members would often note how much Irene Ryan smoked. Many of her co-stars held concerns over her heath, but no one saw her end coming.

The Life and Times of ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ Icon Irene Ryan

Watching Ryan as matriarch Daisy Moses on her television classic shows a woman we all thought would dance-on as a beloved “Granny” forever. As such, her 70-year life is beyond worthy of celebration.

Born on October 17 of 1902 as Jessie Irene Noblitt, Irene Ryan would grow up to become Granny, one of television’s most recognizable characters. The El Paso, Texas native became a household face and name in the role, and she remains beloved to this day thanks to her phenomenal body of work and, of course, reruns of Beverly Hillbillies.

At the beginning of her performance career, Ryan would work in vaudeville and radio. The iconic actress would first perform as a double act with her first husband, Tim Ryan. Following their divorce, she would tour with fellow entertainment legend Bob Hope. Eventually, she made the jump to film and television way back in 1935 as part of One Big Happy Family, a movie short.

During her Beverly Hillbillies heyday, Ryan would be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series.”

Well deserved, to say the least! Her work was not without financial merit, either. At the time of her death in 1973, Irene Ryan’s net worth stood at a full $1 million. This is equal to roughly $7 million today.