In the 21st century, movie star Errol Flynn is a distant memory, but he was so huge in his time, that Arnella Flynns drugged and boozed demise seemed to cry out for an investigative trip to the Island.
Reported and written by Kevin Smith in Los Angeles in October 1998.
Its hard to imagine what screen legend Errol Flynn would have wanted for his children. The hell raising Hollywood icon, as famous for his hard drinking and womanizing as for his films, may have enjoyed the idea of one of the kids growing up to be a chip off the old block, following in his staggering footsteps.
But it was probably best “Captain Blood” died long before his daughter Arnella.
Wizened and old before her time she died a sad and lonely drug addict in September 1998, aged 44.
Reduced to stealing coconuts to pay for her cocaine and rum, she lived the life of a poor beach bum while her mother Patrice Wymore, Errol’s third and last wife, lorded it as a plantation owner in Jamaica. She could have lived the good life and been heir to the 3,000 acre Flynn Estate, but like her father she drowned her demons in drink and drugs and died prematurely.
Her exasperated mother, who had long since given up trying to rescue her wayward daughter, tried to turn a blind eye as Arnella paraded around the local beach with her Rastafarian boyfriends, high on a mixture of white rum, white powder and ganja. On September 21 1998 the embarrassment ended when plantation workers discovered Arnella dead in her bed.
The official cause of death was heart failure due to bilateral lung disease. But ask any of the locals on the Caribbean island and they will tell you it was a long, slow suicide by hard living.
“You couldn’t keep up that pace forever,” said Jerky, a market stall owner who would buy vegetables Arnella on her small patch of land. “She was a lovely girl, but her big problem was the coke. She couldn’t stay away from the stuff. “If you do that every night like she did, it will kill you. Everyone knew that was the way she was going to go.”
At a nearby bar nestled on the edge of the sprawling Flynn estate, old women shake their heads as they recall the girl who grew up on the island.
“She used to be such a pretty girl, but at the end she was just a bag of bones,” said Doris Brady. “She looked like an old woman, older than her mum.”
Arnella came late into Flynn’s life. Flynn’s third wife Patrice, his co-star in three films, gave birth to Arnella in Rome. But it was in the St Mark’s Anglican church in Boston, Jamaica, where she was christened. Along with her brother Sean and sisters Deirdre and Rory (correct, Rory is a girl) they all grew up on the island.
Flynn had called Jamaica home since his yacht Zaca ran aground there in a hurricane in the 1940s. Falling in love with the tranquil blue waters, he decided to stay and sank his fortune from film making into the cattle and coconut farm stretched along six miles of coastline. He bought the nearby Titchfield Hotel where he entertained his Hollywood society friends.He won the picturesque Navy Island, sitting just off the coast by his hotel in a boozy dice game.
But when Arnella was just two years old, he split from her mother and moved 17-year-old Beverly “Woodsie” Aadland in to her place. When Arnella was just four her father died of a heart attack in Vancouver where he was trying to sell his yacht to a rich Canadian. He was 50.
“I think one of the problems Arnella had growing up was that everyone around her knew her father, but she didn’t,” said Carol Churchill, attorney for Patrice Wymore. “She had a lot of problems to cope with growing up. And having this famous father you don’t even know hanging over you is not easy.”
Arnella began her slide quickly. When she was just 13 her mother shipped her away from Los Angeles. “I had to get her away from Sunset Strip and all its temptations,” she said in 1983. “She was in danger of becoming a flower child.”
Jamaica was a poor choice for a sanctuary. The rocky coves that attracted Flynn to the island in the first place are used by cocaine smugglers on their way from Columbia to the US with their deadly cargo and marijuana grows freely in the verdant hills around the Flynn home.
But for a while she did appear to make a start in life. She had a son Luke in 1976 by a New Yorker named Carl and spent several years there, working as a model and trading off her famous name. Her face graced the covers of magazines around the world.
But back in Jamaica, where he father’s carousing is still the stuff of legend, Arnella found it tough to carry the Flynn name. She was a celebrity to everyone on the island without ever asking for fame. She took to drinking Wray and Nephew, Overproof White Rum neat. Even her father needed to dilute the liquor with water or juice to stomach it. And she found an endless supply of cocaine, marijuana and men among the easy going Rastas camped out in bamboo huts on Long Bay beach. Most of all, she found companionship.
“She was one of us, man,” said Rasta Anthon “She preferred to spend her time here than with the others. She was cool like that.” “But she should have kept away from the coke. I shared smoke with her, but none of the coke. That stuff messes with your head.”
Willard Hearne, a long time friend and sometime lover, couldn’t believe his luck when Arnella fell for him. A former supermodel and heir to one of the biggest plantations on the island, she was infatuated with the 56-year-old Rastafarian with matted dreadlocks and jaundiced eyes from years of smoking.
“Arnella was a very sweet girl, but she had a lot of problems,” Willard said, sitting on the deck of his jungle shack. “It is a shame she and her mother couldn’t get along. Just days before she died, Arnella got a letter from her mother’s attorney telling her she had to leave the estate, she was being kicked out. She told me she was sad because she had nowhere to go. Then three days later she was dead. I’ll miss her.”
Patrice had often tried to rein her in. She cut off her finances in the hopes that she wouldn’t be able to afford the one-pound-a-line of cocaine from the local dealers. But Arnella turned to selling her homegrown carrots and tomatoes on roadside stalls to tourists for cash. When that ran out, she took to stealing coconuts from her mother’s farm. For Arnella, told when she was a kid she would never want for anything, money still grew on trees. She was banished from the main house to a smaller, tatty house elsewhere on the estate.
In one last bid to cut off the supply, Patrice hired ranger patrols to guard her stocks of coconuts. She could spare the coconuts, but she didn’t want to spare her daughter. It was too late.
By the beginning of 1998, everyone was worried about her health except Arnella herself. She gave up on her appearance. Her hair wrapped in a scarf and her face wrinkled and tired from exposure to the sun, she would wear scruffy clothes as she climbed into her white Suzuki Swift and drive to a beachside bar to buy her cocaine.
“She was constantly out of it,” said Anthon. “She was one of the best people. She was flexible. When she was with us, she talked like a Jamaican, but when she was with the others she talked like an American. She wasn’t stuck up; she wasn’t all high and mighty. She loved the Rasta. She loved the long hair. She had several Rasta boyfriends. That was her thing. “But she was our friend too. We tried to stop her from doing the coke, but you can’t stop doing that stuff until you die.”
A few days after her death, the family gathered at the Trident Hotel to remember the good times. Her son Luke flew in from New York where he works as a photographic model. Her mother Patrice, now in her late seventies, temporarily moved out of her ranch to come to terms with her grief.
They talked long and hard about what went wrong, just as the family had debated Errol’s untimely death forty years ago. There was a brief service at St Mark’s church where she had been christened, but ultimately, her ashes will be flown to Los Angeles where she will be finally laid to rest in a plot next to her famous father in Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.
She spent her whole life living trying to live up the reputation of the man she couldn’t even remember. Only in death was she able to get near to him.
Kevin Smith is a British journalist writing out of Los Angeles. He started Splash News, a celebrity news service, when he arrived in America in 1990.Splash provides celebrity news, features and photographs to magazines and newspapers in 34 countries around the world.