Tragic Details About Josh Hartnett's Life

Josh Hartnett is the epitome of cool and has been for decades. The former teen heartthrob cut his teeth in big pictures like "40 Days and 40 Nights" and "Pearl Harbor," playing the handsome leading man. Executives knew how to play Hartnett like a fiddle, using his tall, dark, and painfully good-looking persona to appeal to audiences across the globe. In the aughts, Hartnett was hot property. Not only was he great for business, but fans were obsessed with his personal life too, often poring over photos of him with his then-girlfriend Scarlett Johannson or his later love interest, model Helena Christensen. We wanted to know everything. 

In short, Hartnett had all of the elements to become a star as big as Brad Pitt or George Clooney ... so why did he disappear? Seemingly overnight, Hartnett stopped playing the game. Instead of milking the cash cow, the actor took a giant step back and all but disappeared from the spotlight. Though it may have appeared to onlookers like he had everything, Hartnett was embroiled in several struggles behind the scenes that impacted how his future played out. 

From health issues to heart-wrenching breakups, in-fighting among his team, and turning down the roles that could have made his career, Hartnett's life hasn't been as glitzy and glamorous as some may think. Let's take a look at tragic details from Hartnett's past and whether he'll ever be able to get past them.

Josh Hartnett's split from Scarlett Johansson 'gutted' him

It's not unusual for fans to obsess over a celebrity's dating life. When a star couples up with another star, it's even more enthralling. Josh Hartnett is no stranger to the scrutiny these sorts of relationships can invite thanks to the year or so he spent with his "The Black Dahlia" co-star Scarlett Johannson. They were pictured together several times throughout their relationship, including at the premiere of his 2007 movie, "Lucky Number Slevin" (above).

Though they seemed like a(n incredibly beautiful) match made in heaven, it wasn't meant to be, and the actors broke up in late 2006. After Scarlett Johannson and Josh Hartnett's relationship ended, the actor told Mirror's 3am that the split was very painful for him. "It was difficult spending so much time apart with all our different commitments and both of us flying all over the world," he admitted, adding that the relationship simply didn't work out. While Hartnett's candid thoughts on the ill-fated romance might have been a little diplomatic, an anonymous source told the publication that it was more deep-rooted than Hartnett let on. 

"Josh was gutted when he and Scarlett split — he thought she was really special and felt they might last the distance," they explained, adding that the overwhelming amount of public pressure on them led to arguments. It took him some time to get over the split, but pouring himself into his work was a big help, according to the insider. 

Josh Hartnett sued a tabloid in 2008 over nefarious gossip

Every Hollywood star knows the rumor mill can make or break your reputation. Getting past gossip after it starts to spread can be incredibly difficult whether it's true or not. After people hear it, it can stick in the public consciousness and be forever attached to a famous figure. In 2008, Josh Hartnett decided that he wasn't about to let the tabloids win when the Daily Mirror ran a story titled "Josh Hartnett's saucy CCTV romp," which alleged Hartnett had a NSFW tryst in the library of the Soho Hotel, according to The Guardian

Not only did the Daily Mirror claim that this romantic encounter was caught on camera, but that hotel workers saw everything and were so aghast they banned Hartnett from staying in the establishment again. Instead of shrugging it off like some other celebrities might, Hartnett went all the way, taking the publication to court for libel. His lawyer, Graham Atkins, rebuffed the claims as "entirely false." As a result of the battle, Hartnett won an apology from the corporation and a payout of £20,000, which Hartnett donated to charities. 

Though Hartnett hasn't publicly spoken about the entire debacle, it's not a stretch to assume that it was something he took very seriously. No one wants a headline like that printed about them, but for Hartnett, it could have been one of the straws that broke the camel's back when it came to his relationship with fame. 

Health issues plagued him in 2009

Rumors are one thing, but when you're battling with health issues too, it can make being in the spotlight 10 times harder. In 2009, reports surfaced that Josh Harnett was suffering from some health issues that required hospital treatment. Hartnett's publicist released a statement when the news broke, perhaps to get past the inevitable rumors that would surround their client. They explained, according to Entertainment Weekly, that the actor was suffering from "a flare-up of a gastrointestinal problem that plagued him while he was starring in the West End of London during the production of 'Rain Man.'" 

According to People (via SheKnows) Hartnett tried to downplay the episode. "I'm fine. I just had a little stomach bug. [There's] nothing to worry about ... I was so dehydrated that I needed to be on a couple of IVs, but I'm good." It sounds like it was a particularly trying period, considering just how busy the star was.

Even though the actor assured fans it was fine, some couldn't help but feel that it was an indicator that Hartnett was either burning the candle at both ends or was possibly suffering from something much more serious that he didn't want to become public knowledge. 

Josh Hartnett battled other malicious rumors in his early career

As previously mentioned, Josh Hartnett took on the tabloids and won when they dared to print untrue information about him, but the actor has never been able to escape the rumor mill. Many stars take it in stride, while others struggle with the attention that fame brings. Hartnett falls into the latter category. One of the biggest things the media reported on back in the early days of Hartnett's career was an alleged feud between the actor and his 2003 "Hollywood Homicide" co-star, Harrison Ford. (Interestingly, Ford couldn't get along with Brad Pitt when they worked together, either.)

It was so significant to Hartnett that when he gave a rare interview to The Independent in 2023, he brought it up. The actor admitted that the drama was what sold newspapers during that era, but it was totally false. "[W]e actually got on really well," he explained. "But it was misinterpreted as, 'They don't get along!' It certainly wasn't a set that was filled with tension." However, Hartnett did confess to calling the Hollywood legend "the bane of [his] existence," he insists there were no issues. 

Considering just how many years have passed since that encounter, it's obviously something that still weighs on Hartnett. Such rumors can often damage an actor's career, labeling them difficult to work with, so it's hardly surprising it left a mark on the star that is still hard to erase over two decades later. 

He became so sick of fame he abandoned Hollywood in his 20s

Some actors grow up dreaming of fame and fortune only to find that when they get it, it's too much for them to handle. It's not unusual for some to run from it (the tragic tale of Jonathan Taylor Thomas is another prime example of this). Josh Hartnett struggled so much with his stratospheric success that he ended up moving back to his home state of Minnesota. While there are plenty of people who would've loved to be in his shoes, seeing his face plastered everywhere was just too much for the "August" star. 

As he told Details (via ABC News): "I was on the cover of every magazine. I couldn't really go anywhere. I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I was alone." That may seem like a wild stance considering how successful Hartnett was at the time, but it also makes a lot of sense — evidently, Hartnett isn't a man who was naturally predisposed to this level of notoriety. He went on to explain to the publication that reconnecting with his old school friends helped him, and he even got back together with his high school girlfriend for a brief period. 

He took 18 months off and didn't film a single project, but even after that respite, Hartnett admitted that he was still trying to navigate everything. But as we well know, Hollywood doesn't always take kindly to actors biting the hand that feeds them. 

He turned down two career-defining roles

Some acting roles are so big that for multiple reasons, they require careful consideration before a star takes them. These can often be career-defining decisions, and not everyone wants to be commercialized forever. Considering just how big Josh Hartnett was in the aughts, it's hardly a shock that he was in talks to play not one or two but three beloved superheroes at the time. Hartnett was offered Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman on more than one occasion. Not only are these jobs incredibly lucrative, but they could have seriously elevated his Hollywood status. Given that, why did Hartnett decide it wasn't what he wanted to do? Was it the costumes, the stunts, or something else? 

Speaking about his decisions to Metro in 2020, the actor said he simply didn't want to become a tool. "At that age, it is very easy to become someone else's tool or someone else's puppet," he explained. While he said he didn't have any regrets and stood by his decision, he also confessed that he didn't think he would be talking about it 15 years later, indicating he should've given more consideration to the parts than he did at the time. 

Hartnett said that some of his peers struggled to regain control over their careers after playing parts like these, which could be true — though Tobey Maguire was laughing all the way to the bank, even if he hasn't won any Oscars. 

His career choices led to serious infighting among his team

It's not just actors who have to deal with the consequences of their career choices, but their agents and the rest of their team, too. A lot of these behind the scenes teams stand to benefit a lot if their clients become better known, not just financially but professionally. The more famous the people they represent, the better chance they have of getting a higher standard of clientele. For that reason, it might not be surprising to hear that when Josh Hartnett refused the parts of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, it caused a lot of problems in his team.

Hartnett told Details in 2014 that things quickly went downhill. "I didn't have those agents for much longer after that," he explained, going on to say that there was so much fighting it became unmanageable as everyone tried to blame each other. "It got to the point where none of us were able to work together." It's not often that celebrities are as open about parting ways with their teams as Hartnett was, but perhaps enough time had passed for him to make peace with it. 

Passing up such big opportunities clearly damaged Hartnett's standing in Hollywood in more ways than one, which begs the question: Was his retreat to Minnesota really about taking a break or was it something he didn't choose?

His TV show was canceled after just 3 seasons

In 2014, fans were thrilled to see Josh Hartnett star in the deliciously dark and dramatic horror TV series, "Penny Dreadful." Packed full of vampires, werewolves, and the forces of evil, the show allowed Hartnett to explore his darker side. The series also starred Eva Green and Timothy Dalton in lead roles, making this an impressively cast show. Hartnett's turn as gunslinger Ethan Chandler proved a triumphant return for the actor, with The Guardian's critic Phelim O'Neill calling the show "so great it'd be a crime not to watch." 

It was disheartening, then, when the show was canceled after three seasons in 2016 when the show's creator decided the series couldn't continue without Green's character, Vanessa Ives. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Showtime's president David Nevins admitted, "This is a case of your creator says this is the best thing for the show and eventually you just say OK, do it, just do it well."

Not only did it mean that the show's creator perhaps didn't value Hartnett and Dalton's characters as much as Green's, but it meant that Hartnett was once again back on the unemployment line. Regardless, Hartnett retained a stiff upper lip and didn't complain, telling Variety that while he liked the series, he was ready to find "other things to work on" when filming wrapped.

Josh Hartnett has to fight for roles now and finds it depressing

Josh Hartnett is the first to admit that it didn't take him long at all to break through in the entertainment industry. While some actors might struggle for years before getting their big break, Hartnett told Details (via Us Weekly) that it took him just two weeks. While this instantaneous rise to fame is something that he doesn't regret, it didn't last forever — and these days, getting work isn't quite as easy as it used to be. 

In the same interview, Hartnett admitted, "I still get offered film and TV roles, luckily, but years ago, if I saw a role I wanted, there was a good chance I could grab it. When I see a role now, I've got to fight for it." He went on to say that while this could feel more rewarding, losing out on jobs could be depressing, but "only for a minute." 

Considering how in demand he was at the start of his career, it's a stunning transformation for Josh Hartnett. That's not to say that he hasn't starred in some impressive work, including a small part in the Cillian Murphy-led "Oppenheimer" in 2023, but the offers aren't rolling in as freely as they once were. At least Hartnett has the ability to recognize his situation and accept it for what it is, rather than lament it. That's a talent not all actors have! 

He still shies way from the spotlight as much as possible

Though Josh Hartnett's relationship with fame is a tricky one, he's managed to find something of a middle ground. Since his angsty 20s and the demise of "Penny Dreadful," Hartnett has been able to find work when he wants it, unlike some of the other 2000s child stars, many of whom you wouldn't even recognize today. He may still be in the public eye, but Hartnett is all about family life and would rather spend his time at home with his wife, actress Tamsin Egerton, and their children. 

In his 2023 interview with The Independent, Hartnett admitted that even meeting a journalist was an odd event for him these days. "Coming up to the city and doing an interview is a rarity," he explained. "Typically, I work on the films that I work on, and then I go home." When it comes to his life, Hartnett has found that it's important for him to create clear boundaries between his work and his private life because he enjoys spending around "90%" of his time with his family. 

Hartnett's career hasn't exactly been simple up until this point, but it seems like he may have cracked a formula that allows him to put his past behind him and navigate fame on his own terms, rather than totally succumbing to what Hollywood believes he should be.