Errol Flynn got his start in Hollywood in 1935, playing a corpse in The Case of the Curious Bride. ''Some people claim it was my best role,'' he quipped, but it wasn't his only meaningful relationship with a cadaver. The photo at left, taken in 1959, captures Flynn, drunk and happy, telling how some soused Hollywood pals heisted John Barrymore's body from a funeral parlor in 1942 and sat it down in Flynn's home just to savor the star's reaction when he walked in. On Oct. 14, 10 days after telling that tale, Flynn himself was dead of a heart attack at age 50.
Born in Tasmania, the ultimate swashbuckler lived an epic, renegade life both on and off screen. Flynn once forced Dean Stockwell, then 13, to eat camel dung on camera. The three men who made his career, studio boss Jack Warner and directors Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, all called him a ''son of a bitch.'' In his dark moods, he vented his rage on three wives and at least three claimants of statutory rape. His autobiography was appropriately titled My Wicked, Wicked Ways.
Like the sodden Peter O'Toole character he inspired in My Favorite Year (1982), he was a frightened fraud. Publicly contemptuous of his profession, the witty, literate Flynn was actually a gifted actor who made more than 50 movies and took great pains to preserve his vanity. Coworkers noted his habit of presenting his best profile and carefully applying makeup to his eyes. When he played Don Juan in 1948, his wife, Nora Eddington, acidly told the director he had stuffed a towel down his pants.
He had little luck in love, though near the end of his days, Flynn may have finally found happiness with his last paramour, Beverly Aadland, who was just 15 when he seduced her. In the last year of his life, briefly separated from Aadland, he sent a telegram that read, ''Very lonely very lonely why no letters hug hug.'' Ten minutes before his heart, weakened by years of boozing, ultimately gave out, Aadland gave him his final kiss.
Flynn's last wife, actress Patrice Wymore, attested to his wickedness and charm: ''I wish I could hate him, but I can't. He's the most lovable man in the world.'' But the adventurer who squandered the $7 million he made from classics like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood left his own unsentimental bottom line: ''Any man who dies with more than $1.05 is a jerk.''