US actor, best known for his portrayal of irascible but lovable characters in numerous films in the 1930s and 1940s.
Lionel Barrymore was born in Philadelphia into one of the great theatrical families: his father was the British-born actor Maurice Barrymore and his mother was Georgie Drew, daughter of Irish actor-manager John Drew and American actress Louisa Lane. His brother John Barrymore (1882–1942) and his sister Ethel Barrymore (1879–1959) also became distinguished actors.
Lionel made his stage debut with his grandmother's company in The Road to Ruin (1893), after which he appeared in such plays as The Humming Bird, with Charles Frohman's company, and J. M. Barrie's Pantaloon (1905) before ill-health interrupted his career. He studied painting in Paris but returned to the stage in Peter Ibbetson (1917). Between then and 1925 he achieved outstanding successes in several plays, including The Copperhead (1918) and The Jest (1919), and was particularly admired for his performance as Macbeth. Man or Devil (1925) marked the end of his stage career, after which he devoted himself to films. Barrymore's film career had begun with D. W. Griffith's Friends (1909). With the coming of sound he directed the outstanding Madame X (1929) and received an Oscar as best actor for his portrayal of the father in A Free Soul (1931). Other memorable films included Grand Hotel (1932), Rasputin and the Empress (1932; with John and Ethel Barrymore), Camille (1937), and the Dr Kildare series, as Dr Gillespie.
Barrymore also wrote books, including a biography of his family called We Barrymores, and composed a symphony.