An Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe winner, Neal was just as well-known for the trials, tribulations and triumphs she lived through, including a nervous breakdown, the death of one of her children, and a series of strokes that left her in a three-week coma while pregnant at the age of 39. Her subsequent rehabilitation, with the help of her then-husband, author Roald Dahl, led to yet another chapter of her acting career, as well as her pioneering for the cause of stroke rehabilitation.
Born Patsy Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky in 1926, Neal grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and studied acting at Northwestern University before heading to New York, where she began her long and illustrious stage career, winning a Tony Award in 1946 for Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, which attracted the attention of Hollywood. Though she filmed the comedy John Loves Mary first in 1949 -- a film in which she played the Mary to future President Ronald Reagan's John -- it was the second film she made that year which introduced her to audiences with a huge splash: the highly-anticipated adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, where she played conflicted, imperious heroine Dominique Francon opposite Gary Cooper's stalwart architect Howard Roark, already a famed character thanks to the success of Rand's novel. Though actress Barbara Stanwyck championed the project to Warner Bros., the studio ultimately cast the unknown 22-year-old Neal opposite the 47-year-old Cooper.