He was all out of feature film appearances, but you could still see Stewart if you knew where to look. He made an appearance in the historical miniseries “North and South” in 1986 and also did voice-over work for commercials for Campbell’s Soups in both the 1980s and the 1990s. After everything else was said and done, Stewart had one single movie performance left in him: Sheriff Wylie Burp in the animated film “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.”
The movie came out in 1991, and then that was it for the man who had, for so long, been the greatest Hollywood had ever produced. From his first few stumbling film roles to lifetime achievement awards, Stewart had seen it all, and he was ready to kick up his feet.
I Don’t Need a Hearing Aid
Nearing 70, Stewart was showing his age. His next film, in 1976, was “The Shootist,” a supporting part in what would become John Wayne’s final film appearance before his death. It concerns Wayne’s character, a gunfighter and sheriff struggling with cancer. Similarly, Stewart’s own health was starting to trend downward. After so much time on noisy sets and flying planes, Stewart had a hearing problem, but he refused to wear a hearing aid.
Because of this, he had a hard time hearing his cues and would repeatedly flub his lines. His next films, “Airport ‘77,” “The Big Sleep,” and “The Magic of Lassie,” mostly floundered at the box office and in the reviews, but at least “Airport ‘77” was a box-office hit.
The Final Film
In 1980, even Stewart could read the writing on the wall. His last live-action feature film was “The Green Horizon” in 1980, which he took because it promoted wildlife conservation and allowed him to visit Kenya with his family. The film was, however, a flop. At that point, Stewart considered himself semi-retired. He had earned it, certainly, but it was hard to drag him away from the camera.
His two movies in the eighties after it was television movies: “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” (which allowed him to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a lifelong dream of his) and “Right of Way,” a drama for HBO that co-starred Bette Davis. He was definitely taking it a little easier, but there was still more to come for ol’ Jimmy.
Loving the Home Life
After he and Gloria had gotten married, they bought a home in Beverly Hills in 1951 – they stayed there for the rest of their lives. Stewart adopted Gloria’s two children from her previous marriage, Ronald and Michael, and the pair also had daughters, twins Judy and Kelly, on May 7th, 1951. At the age of 24, Ronald was killed in action in the Vietnam War, serving as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1969.
Jimmy and Gloria remained married until Gloria’s death in 1994 from lung cancer at the age of 75. Like her husband, she enjoyed skeet shooting, fishing, animals, and travel. She was a supporter of conserving big-game animals rather than hunting them, and she was able to bring Jimmy around to the same viewpoint after enough time.
Not an Open Book
Jimmy Stewart always kept details about his personal life close to the vest. He was guarded, and he tended to keep himself emotionally unavailable during interviews, as opposed to the emotion he showed in films. He kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. People even went so far as to describe him as a loner who didn’t have close relationships with a lot of people.
Director John Ford once said that you don’t get to know Jimmy Stewart; Jimmy Stewart gets to know you. If Twitter or any other social media had been around during his day, we doubt that he would have been very interested. Just makes you like him a little more, you know? You don’t have to know everything about your favorite actor.