On This Day: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Actor Jimmy Stewart Dies in 1997

by Keeli Parkey

The man who starred in many of the most famous films in Hollywood history passed away on this day 24 years ago. That man was the legendary actor Jimmy Stewart.

Stewart is most remembered for his roles in such films as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Vertigo,” and many more. He passed away on July 2, 1997, in Beverly Hills, California, according to Biography. He was 89 years old at the time of his death.

At the time of his death, some of Stewart’s friends shared their feelings about the late actor with Variety. One of those friends was another legendary actor – Charlton Heston. They worked together in the 1952 film, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

“He was the quintessential American face. He taught me a lot when I was starting out. Jimmy had the best attitude and work habits,” Heston said. “… I also learned a great deal from just watching how he conducted himself in public. He loved the work and respected the people who made him a star. He was a role model and inspiration.”

Another friend of Jimmy Stewart who praised the actor following his death was Lew Wasserman. Wasserman was Stewart’s representative from 1944 until 1962.

“He was my favorite friend,” Wasserman said. “It’s very sad for me but I also know that he will live on forever in the films he made.”

Lew Wasserman is right about that. Jimmy Stewart does “live on” thanks to his many popular film roles.

Jimmy Stewart Rose To Fame From Humble Beginnings In Pennsylvania

The famous actor was born in 1908 in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania. His given name was James Maitland Stewart. His father owned a hardware store in their town.

From that hometown in Pennsylvania, Stewart went on to study architecture at Princeton. He earned his degree in 1932, but never worked as an architect. It was during his time at the university that he began acting with Triangle Club. Following graduation, he decided to become a member of the University Players in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Stewart’s career path led to Broadway in 1935. It was that year when he made his Broadway debut in the show “Carrie Nation.” Three years later he moved to Hollywood and signed on with MGM in 1935. It didn’t take long before Jimmy Stewart was on his way to stardom.

In 1939, he starred in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” This filmed earned him his first Academy Award nomination. He won his first Oscar the following year thanks to his role in “The Philadelphia Story.”

Even with his Hollywood star on the rise, Jimmy Stewart put his career on hold to serve in U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II. He had a successful military career and left the military with the rank of colonel.

Following the war, Stewart returned to acting. He appeared in “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946. Many more films followed, including “Harvey,” “Winchester ’73,” and “Broken Arrow” – all in 1950. Stewart also had success with his collaborations with famous director Alfred Hitchcock. These included “Rope,” “Rear Window,” and “Vertigo.”