Wallace Reid was a handsome but now almost forgotten actor who died in 1923, after a long struggle with morphine addiction brought about by his studio's need to keep him working despite injuries sustained in an on-location accident.
Between 1914 and 1922, he was one of the most recognisable faces in the world. However, after an injury on location, Wallace was given morphine & it later became an addiction. Despite being only 31, he was too weak to fight off the influenza that killed him.
In 1913 Wallace Reid married actress Dorothy Davenport; though she was only seventeen, she was already a veteran of stage and screen. Their marriage was a happy union, and they had a son born in 1917 named Wallace Reid Jr., and they adopted a little girl named Betty in 1922.
At the height of his fame he was better known and loved than any other actor had ever been, however he still felt that it wasn't quite a man's job. The pictures he loved were the ones where he had to do stunts - where he could ride, or drive a racing car, or go on location into Yosemite Valley and sit around the fire with the forest rangers. Reid made the first of his racing films in 1919, entitled "The Roaring Road." After that, he was most readily identified with this type of entertainment making several others such as "Double Speed," "Excuse My Dust" and "What's Your Hurry?" .
While making "The Valley of the Giants" in Oregon in 1919, Wally was involved in a train accident and badly injured. The hospital gave him morphine to help him deal with severe pain. After being released from the hospital his pain continued, so the studio began to supply him with more and more morphine, so they could continue using their "valuable film property." Reid became addicted and depressed, and his alcohol use sprung out of control. The combination of the alcohol and morphine was too much, even for a young, physically strong man in his thirties. He tried entering sanitariums, similar to the detox centers of today, to break his addictions, but his condition continued to deteriorate. His last film was made in 1922.
Wally was determined to drive in the Indianapolis 500 race. He had decided to drive his Duesenberg. He was a licensed racing driver. The honor was one he valued highly. He counted Roscoe Sarles and Jimmy Murphy among his closet pals. The thing became an obsession with him. Arguments were powerless. The threats of the company that such an action would break his contract didn't touch him. The pleas of his friends were unavailing. Whether or not there was, deep down, a desire to die with his boots on, an almost subconscious hope that this would be a final, grand gesture, no one knows. He had his mechanics prepare his car. Reid never made the start, he might have practiced for the race but he withdrew before qualifying. Common sense seems to have prevailed. He was in no fit state to drive, his morphine addiction was at an advanced state.
On January 18th, 1923, Wallace Reid died in his wife Dorothy's arms. She never remarried, claiming she could never find anyone else who could compare to Wally. For the rest of Dorothy's life she campaigned for the increased awareness of drug addiction, and the terrible toll it causes on families and society.