William Horatio Powell (July 29, 1892 - March 5, 1984) was an American actor, noted for his sophisticated, cynical roles.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, William Powell was an only child and showed an early aptitude for performing. After the high school, he left home for New York and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at the age of 18. In 1912 Powell graduated from the AADA, and then he worked in some vaudeville and stock companies. After a successful experience like brilliant actor on the Broadway stage, in 1922 he begun his Hollywood career. His first starring role was as Philo Vance in 1929's The Canary Murder Case. He followed this up with the Vance role in The Kennel Murder Case in 1933. In the same year, he was divorced from his second wife, the actress Carole Lombard, who later went on to marry Clark Gable.
Powell's most famous role was that of Nick Charles in six "Thin Man" films, beginning with The Thin Man in 1934, in which he proved his sophisticated charme and his witty sense of humour. The delightful Myrna Loy played his wife Nora in each of the "Thin Man" films, and his partnership with Loy would become the screen's most prolific, with the couple appearing in 14 films together.
He received an Academy Award Nomination for The Thin Man, and starred in the Best Picture of 1936, The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Powell could play any role with authority whether it was comedy, thriller or drama. He would receive his second Academy Award Nomination for the magnificent comedy My Man Godfrey (1936), with Carole Lombard. He was on top of the world until 1937.
In 1935 he starred with Jean Harlow in Reckless, and they become very friends. But briefly Powell's friendship with Harlow developed into a serious romance. Sadly she died before they could marry. His distress over Harlow's death and a battle with cancer resulted in him accepting fewer roles. In 1940 he married the beautiful actress Diana Lewis. Although the couple had only met for the first time three weeks before their marriage, they remained married until Powell's death.
His career slowed considerably in the late 1940s, although in 1947 he received his third Academy Award nomination for his work in Life with Father. His last film was Mister Roberts in 1955.
Powell died in Palm Springs, California thirty years after his retirement.