Christopher Jones, the dark brooding star of famous 1970s movie “Ryan’s Daughter” who mysteriously quit movies after that film, has died aged 72 of gallbladder cancer. He has often been compared to James Dean as a lost talent.
"Ryan’s Daughter" is probably the most famous movie shot in Ireland after “The Quiet Man.”
Jones was at the height of his career when he quit. David Lean, the leading director of his time, cast him alongside Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles in the movie filmed in the Kerry Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area).
Jones had a nervous breakdown after the film in which he portrayed a shell-shocked British officer and never acted in a serious way again, even turning down a leading role in "Pulp Fiction" directed by Quentin Tarantino.
It was later revealed that he had been having an affair with actress Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered in her Hollywood home by the Charles Manson gang during the shooting of the film.
He also had his entire voice dubbed over in the movie and argued bitterly off camera with his screen lover, actress Sarah Miles.
"Christopher Jones was an enigma and a deeply troubled soul," Sarah Miles told the London tabloid The Mirror from her home in West Sussex.
Miles added that "at the time [of Sharon Tate's murder] Christopher was distinctly disturbed about something, so much so that he could hardly perform at all. … At the end of the shoot he was taken off to a mental hospital."
Miles’ husband, Robert Bolt, who penned “Doctor Zhivago” and “A Man for All Seasons,” wrote the original script, while David Lean, the famous director of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” directed.
“Ryan’s Daughter” was considered a box office hit but not a smash when it was released in 1970, but has since become a beloved, classic Irish film, and is considered to be one of Lean’s best works.
It collected a reported $30.84 million (loosely, $166 million today) in North America.
The story is set in 1916 Ireland during World War I.
Rosy Ryan, who lives on the quiet Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, has an affair with a British officer, much to the dismay of the nationalist villagers. What ensues is a violent struggle between British and Irish, informers and nationalists, husband and lover.
One of the film’s most famous scenes, in which Rosy commits adultery with the British officer (played by Jones) in a lush Irish forest, was considered distasteful by 1970 Irish audiences who were submerged in a time of heightened violence in Northern Ireland.
But strong performances by Miles as Rosy, Hollywood great Robert Mitchum as her schoolteacher husband, and John Mills as the village idiot (who won an Oscar for the role), as well as a strong dose of Irish romanticism and breathtaking cinematography, have since overshadowed the controversial subject matter of “Ryan’s Daughter.”
It was not a good time for Jones however. His year in Ireland was one of the worst of his life, Jones told The Chicago Tribune. He was traumatized over Tate’s death and at odds with his co-star, Sarah Miles. “I had absolutely no desire to do anything for a long time,” he said.
The film had a massive impact on Ireland when it was released in 1970 and played a huge role in popularising the West Kerry area worldwide.
The ruins of the village built especially for the movie were still visible up to a few years ago and it has become a popular part of the local tourist trail.
Jones died on Jan. 31 in Los Alamitos, CA. He was 72. He lived with his longtime companion Paula McKenna and leaves seven children. He made his living as an artist and a sculptor.
“He had this extraordinary quality of screen personality,” David Lean once said, “which I always find terribly difficult to describe, or even to understand.”