National Obituary Review

Dead Person of the Day – January 29 – Harold Russell

0 Comments 29 January 2013


Today’s DPD is the quintessential lost classic in American lore. Harold Russell, who was born in Nova Scotia, but moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts was the last person you’d expect to make his mark in the pantheon of Academy Award history. He was working in a food market when Pearl Harbour was bombed. “I made a rush to the recruiting office, not out of patriotism but because I thought of myself a failure,” he explained in his autobiography, Victory In My Hands (1949)

While in WWII Russell served his country nobly and, as a result, lost both of his hands.
After choosing hooks rather than plastic hands Russell threw himself at learning the new way of life and became incredibly adept. The decision turned out to have a tremendous affect on  his life. He starred in a film for the army aimed at vets that had lost appendages – helping them find hope in their loss. A hollywood director (William Wyler), by chance, saw Russell in the film and cast him in his new film The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946).

The Best Years Of Our Lives, refers to the fact that many servicemen had “the best years of their lives” in wartime. The picture focused on three second world war veterans returning to civilian life with severe disabilities. One of them, Homer Parrish, a young sailor, has had both hands, lost in combat, replaced with articulated hooks. The fact that Homer was played by Harold Russell, whose own hands were amputated after a wartime injury – and replaced with steel hooks – added to the poignancy of the performance.

The role won Russell two Oscars, one for best supporting actor and a special second for “bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures”, making him the only person in academy history to win two awards for the same role. In August 1992, he created controversy by auctioning the best supporting actor statuette for $60,500 to an anonymous buyer, claiming that he needed the money for his wife’s medical bills. In response to criticism, he said: “My wife’s health is much more important than sentimental reasons.”

Here’s to Harold Russell and to the struggle Americans face everywhere everyday.

Back up your nostrils and grab this obit.

Harold Russell

Brave actor whose artificial hands helped him win two Oscars

Ronald Bergan
The Guardian
Tuesday 5 February 2002 21.46 EST

The ironic title of William Wyler’s multiple Oscar-winning film, The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946), refers to the fact that many servicemen had “the best years of their lives” in wartime. Continue

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