Skip to content

Biography of Laurence Olivier

Photo of Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier was a twentieth century stage and film actor.

When and Where was he Born?

22nd May 1907, Dorking, Surrey, England.

Family Background:

Laurence Olivier was the son of Gerard Olivier, an Anglican Minister.


Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art under Elsie Fogerty.

Timeline of Laurence Olivier:

1922: Olivier acts at Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time in a schoolboy production of “The Taming of the Shrew”, playing Katharine.

1925: He plays Lennox in “Macbeth”.

1926: He joins Barry Jackson’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, which is the leading company in the country at the time. He works a summer season at Clacton.

1927: He plays in “Uncle Vanya” and “She Stoops to Conquer” in Birmingham.

1928: Laurence Olivier is created the part of Stanhope in “Journey’s End”.

1929: Olivier takes the title role in “Beau Geste” at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. He plays in “Murder on the Second Floor” at the Eltinge Theatre in New York.

1930: He performs in the West End in “Private Lives” with Noel Coward although he found Coward difficult.

1931: Olivier appears in his first Hollywood film “Yellow Ticket”.

1934: He plays Bothwell in “Queen of Scots” a play directed by John Gielgud.

1935: He swaps roles with John Gielgud in “Romeo and Juliet” at the New Theatre, London.

1937: Olivier plays Hamlet at Elsinore alongside Vivien Leigh.

1939: He appears as Heathcliffe in the Hollywood film version of “Wuthering Heights”.

1940: He gets divorced from his first wife Jill Esmond and later marries the actress Vivien Leigh..

1941: Olivier enlists in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

1944: He is appointed co-director of the “Old Vic” theatre in London with Ralph Richardson and John Burrell.

1945: He directs “The Skin of Our Teeth” in which Vivien Leigh plays a staring role at the Phoenix Theatre, London.

1947: Olivier is Knighted. He wins an Outstanding Achievement Oscar for directing “Henry the Fifth”.

1948: He tours Australia and New Zealand with the Old Vic company. He wins Best Film and Best Actor Academy Awards (Oscars) for his film version of “Hamlet”.

1950: He becomes Actor/Manager at St. James Theatre, London.

1951: Olivier takes part in the Festival of Britain productions in association with the Arts Council.

1957: He plays Archie Rice in “The Entertainer” by John Osborne at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

1960: He is divorced from Vivien Leigh.

1961: He marries Joan Plowright. He is appointed Director of the Chichester Festival.

1963: Olivier becomes the first director at the National Theatre Company which begins life at the Old Vic in London.

Statue of Laurence Olivier
Statue to Olivier outside the National Theatre, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1965: He directs “The Crucible” for the National Theatre at the Old Vic.

1971: He becomes Baron Olivier of Brighton, the first actor to be given a life Peerage. He is upset that Peter Hall is chosen as his successor at the National Theatre without his knowledge. He appears in “Long Days Journey into Night” at the New Theatre, London.

1973: Olivier resigns as a director of the National Theatre.

1975: The new National Theatre building is opened on the south bank of the Thames in London.

1976: He appears in a television production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.

1979: He is given a Special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “the full body of his work”.

1981: Olivier is given the Order of Merit.

1982: He appears in the television production of “Brideshead Revisited”.

1983: He wins the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes. He appears in a television production of “King Lear”.

1986: Laurence Olivier appears in a television production of “Peter the Great”.

When and Where did he Die?

11th July 1989, Steyning, West Sussex in his sleep after suffering from prostate cancer and a kidney ailment. 

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1984: “Confessions of an Actor” – Autobiography.


1. To Jill Esmond. (Divorced 1940).
2. 1940: to Vivien Leigh. (Divorced 1960).
3. 1961: To Joan Plowright.

Site of Grave:

Westminster Abbey, London.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


National Theatre, South Bank.
The Old Vic.
Various other London Theatres.


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.