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Johnny Kimberley, 78; British Earl Known for Glorious Failures

June 10, 2002|From the Washington Post

Johnny Kimberley, the fourth Earl of Kimberley, 78, a glorious failure in a variety of private and public endeavors including the posts of Liberal spokesman in the British House of Lords and chairman of Britain's National Council on Alcoholism, has died. He was 78.

Kimberley died May 12 of renal failure in Wiltshire, England.

Over the years, Lord Kimberley had sold real estate in Jamaica, operated his London public relations firm and served as a Guards Armored Division officer in World War II. He also had been a member of Britain's national bobsled team, a championship tiddlywinks player, a breeder of prize pigs, and an amateur steeplechase jockey and shark fisherman.

But he may be best remembered for his lack of luck in marriage. Married six times (and divorced five), he held the unenviable record as the most married man in the British peerage.

He reportedly was even more unlucky in gambling than in marriage, being forced to sell his family's immense properties over the years to pay his debts.

His career in the House of Lords began its downward turn when he was fired as a Liberal Party spokesman in 1979 when he called upon the public to vote for the Conservative Party in the coming general election. However, he continued to serve on the Lords' All Party Defense Study Group and was that body's president from 1992 to 1999. He had been a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly from 1981 to 1993.

Lord Kimberley considered himself an authority on defense, foreign policy, aviation and UFOs. A member of the Lords' All Party UFO Study Group, he once gave such a rousingly singular speech on UFOs in the Lords that the official record of the speech was sold out within 24 hours.

Lord Kimberley failed to win election to the newly organized House of Lords in 1999.

Some years earlier, he was fired from the chairmanship of the National Council on Alcoholism by the British health minister after publicly maintaining that alcoholics need not abstain from drink. Lord Kimberley explained that although he was an alcoholic, he continued to drink a bottle of white wine a day and was none the worse for it.

He contrasted his present state of health to that of his "insane" years of drinking, explaining that by "insane" he meant "no normal person would try to drive a car up the steps of the Grand Hotel in Brighton," as he had once done.

Lord Kimberley's father had been a World War I hero and former member of the House of Commons. His godfather was the statesman Winston Churchill and a cousin was the humorist P.G. Wodehouse.

A graduate of Eton, Lord Kimberley briefly attended Cambridge University's Magdalene College. His education ended, according to London's Daily Telegraph, when he got drunk during a night on the town and "accidentally enlisted in the Grenadier Guards."

He landed in Normandy shortly after D-day and fought his way across Europe.

In 1949, he embarked on the first of his disastrous marriages when he wed a daughter of the master of the King's Household. The marriage took place in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. The queen and the two princesses attended the ceremony, and King George VI toasted the bride and groom.

His divorces, as well as gambling debts and high living, led to the liquidation of his inherited wealth.

He made some money back in the 1950s with his PR firm, whose clients included Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor, and later with his real estate sales operation in Jamaica.

Lord Kimberley had used a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in the 1990s. Last year, he published a racingly readable volume of memoirs, "The Whim of the Wheel."

Survivors include his sixth wife, the former Janey Consett, and four sons.

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