Edward Montgomery Clift was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
Appearing on Broadway at the age of thirteen, Clift achieved success on the stage and starred there for 10 years before moving to Hollywood, debuting in Red River (1948) opposite John Wayne. Clift was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor that same year for The Search. Clift was billed as a new kind of leading man: sensitive, intense and broodingly handsome, the kind of man women would want to take care of.
He had a highly successful film career, performing in many Oscar-nominated roles and becoming a matinee idol because of his good looks and sex appeal. His love scenes with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) set a new standard for romance in cinema. His roles in A Place in the Sun, the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity and The Young Lions (1958) are considered signatures of his career.
A dedicated actor who exhausted himself both emotionally and physically with the depth of his characterisations, Clift was also an isolated and tortured, closeted gay man who used drugs and alcohol to escape his pain.
At the beginning of his career, he drank only moderately and conducted his private life discreetly - dating Taylor and other women as cover - but by the mid 1950s he was using alcohol and drugs excessively and spending wild nights cruising.
In 1954, Clift rented a house in the gay resort of Ogunquit, Maine, and spent the summer picking up men on the beach for parties. The studios did their best to keep Clift's exploits out of the press, but rumours about his lifestyle abounded.
On May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, he smashed his car into a tree after leaving a party at the home of his Raintree County co-star Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Michael Wilding. Hearing the sounds of the crash, Elizabeth Taylor raced to Clift's side and kept him from choking to death by removing two of his teeth, which had become lodged in his throat. Clift needed extensive reconstructive surgery on his face (although his broken nose was never repaired) and he returned after several weeks to finish the film, his handsome appearance permanently disfigured. The 'before and after' face of Clift is apparent in the movie. By this time, Clift had become hooked on alcohol and painkillers, and his health deteriorated. Taylor and Clift remained close friends until his death.
Subsequently, Clift appeared in Elia Kazan's Wild River (1960). He then co-starred in John Huston's The Misfits (1961), which turned out to be the last film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. By the time Clift was making John Huston's Freud (1962) his destructive lifestyle was affecting his health. Universal sued him for his frequent absences which caused the film to go over budget. The case was later settled due to the film's success at the box office, winning Clift a lucrative settlement.
Marilyn Monroe, who was also having emotional problems while filming the The Misfits, described Clift as: 'The only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.'
Clift's last Oscar nomination was for best supporting actor for his riveting role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1962), a seven-minute part. The film also starred Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, and Judy Garland.
Although he was both friend and inspiration to the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift felt his own acting achievements were undervalued, and he died as bitter and broken as the characters he played in many of his films.
In his final years, Clift plunged more deeply into drug and alcohol abuse and wild sexual behaviour. He began to be considered unreliable by studio bosses. Sadly, by the time his companion Lorenzo James found him dead of a heart attack at their home, on July 23, 1966, he was virtually unemployable.
His post-accident career has been referred to as the 'longest suicide in Hollywood' because of his continued substance abuse.
He is interred in the Quaker Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.