But like many artists, Cooke was an alcoholic. He’d vanish from the stage for long periods, and when he made it to a performance, he was “often so drunk as to not be able to come on the stage at all,” recalls the New York Times in 1873.
As with countless other actors, his addiction torpedoed his career. So Cooke left London and went on tour in New York in November 1810.
Here, he played Richard III to rapt, star-struck audiences at the Park Theatre, then on Park Row.
Now his story gets more dramatic. Cooke was buried behind St. Paul’s Chapel on Fulton Street in a pauper’s grave, supposedly without his head, which he’d willed to science to pay down his debts, according to rumors.
His skull was also reported to have made it on stage—as a prop in a British performance of Hamlet later that century.
A monument to Cooke was erected at St. Paul’s by his protegee, British thespian Edmund Kean in 1821. His body was reburied there, but whether it was intact remains a mystery.
[Photo at right: from Findagrave.com]