Edmund Kean and Adoption

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Edmund Kean as Sir Giles Overreach in Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts, b. 1816


Kean was the son of a poverty-stricken actress, Ann Carey, who more or less abandoned him on the streets, and (probably) an architect's clerk, Edmund Kean, who committed suicide when he was 22.

Kean's first public performance was playing Cupid, when he was three or four. He was apparently good enough to attract the attention of several well-off sponsors, who collected the money to send him to boarding school, but he didn't like it and soon ran away to sea. He later returned to England and became a ward of his uncle, Moses Kean, who was in show business, then his aunt, Miss Tidswell, also an actress. He was also adopted by a family named Clarke, but fell out with them and ran away again. By this time he was still only 13 or 14.

Eventually he developed into the finest Shakespearean actor of his day, touring both sides of the Atlantic, and becoming wealthy in the process.

In Canada he became close to the Huron tribe, who adopted him under the name Alanienouidet. He married and had two children, one of whom was also a well-known actor. But his personal life was marked by an unhappy marriage and a scandalous affair with another man's wife, which affected his relationship with the public. He became dependent on drugs and alcohol, and finally collapsed on stage, playing opposite his son, and died two months later.


Dever, Maria, and Dever, Aileen. Relative Origins: Famous Foster and Adopted People. (Portland: National Book Company, 1992) Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97 Walters, Andrew. "Edmund Kean" [Includes portrait]. Available at: