The death of a ladies’ man: Errol Flynn’s Vancouver autopsy


Canada’s open-records laws invariably favour personal privacy over the public’s right to know. Any information that pertains to an individual who is not a government employee is blotted out with black Magic Marker from every request for records.

But there is one little-known quirk in the Freedom of Information laws in Ontario and British Columbia that allows the release of sometimes highly personal information.

The privacy provisions expire 30 years after the death of the subject. I first learned of limitation when I successfully obtained the autopsy records for Tim Horton, an NHL hockey player and founder of an iconic chain of Canadian donut shops.

A friend recently told me that he had once seen autopsy records for swashbuckling star Errol Flynn, who had died in Vancouver, British Columbia, on October 14, 1959. My friend knew a guy who knew a guy who worked in the morgue.

Now, the first page of Flynn’s autopsy has long been on public display in the Vancouver Police Museum.¬† But I decided to file an FOI request for the complete file on Flynn’s death. I was passed on to the BC Archives and eventually received photocopies of the records by mail.

I’m not an Flynn-o-phile so I can’t say how much they add to the already well-trod story of his death. The autopsy report contains vivid anatomical detail about Flynn’s organs and ascribes his passing to myocardial infarction and coronary thrombosis.

(Too much information, perhaps, but we learn from the document that Flynn had “a condyloma acuminata or verrucoid like lession” on the organ which purportedly brought him such social success. That is, Flynn may have suffered from human papillomavirus¬† — HPV — also known as genital warts.)

The one item that popped out of these documents was the letter from Dr. Grant A. Gould, who treated Flynn for leg and back pain at his Vancouver home shortly before the actor expired.

In a letter sent to the Vancouver coroner Glen McDonald to “elucidate a few points which may here been obscured by the press releases,” Gould describe his treatment of famous patient with Demerol.

Writes Gould,

I administered 50 milligrams of demerol intravenously with the patient stealing and supporting himself against table. He obtained considerable relief almost immediately, but elected to remain standing with his back against the patio doorway, which seemed to further ease the discomfort…
At approximately 6:45, his companion Miss Aadland came running to me, saying he had suddenly collapsed, that his colour was poor and that he had apparently stopped breathing. I immediately went to his aid and while commencing to examine him, Miss Aadland pulled a box of amyl nitrate ampoules from her purse and quickly broke one under his nose. …
At this time only a faint heart beat was audible and I injected adrenalin directly into the heart while instructing Miss Aadland to perform mouth to mouth respirations.

There’s lots of interesting Vancouver detail in these documents, too, including a reference to the manager of the Sylvia Hotel, which is still operates at English Bay.

Here, for posterity, “Out like Flynn…”

One thought on “The death of a ladies’ man: Errol Flynn’s Vancouver autopsy

  1. OK, Mr. McSushiboy21.

    I reckon you’ve got some exlaining to do.

    After all, the timing your release of this full autopsy and the publication of the news that Vancouver is no longer being rated as the world’s top city by The Economist were pretty much simultaneous.


    I think not.


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