Pretty Woman’s dark alternate ending revealed: ‘She died of a drug overdose’

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Kayleigh Dray
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Everyone who’s anyone has seen Pretty Woman by this point.

A modern twist on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (or, y’know, Cinderella), the 1990 classic tells the story of Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), a prostitute working in Hollywood.

She soon finds herself hired by Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a wealthy businessman, who’s keen for her to stay with him for a week and be his escort for a number of social events. And, when he offers her $3,000 to do just that, Vivian is quick to agree to his terms – although she warns him that she has a strict “no kissing on the mouth” rule when it comes to clients.

Predictably, they fall in love – and, come the end of the film, Gere’s character rides up on a white horse limo to rescue his damsel in distress from a life of sexual servitude, oppression, and poverty.

However this isn’t a cookie-cutter rom-com; it has incredibly dark undertones as it explores the objectification of women – and, in one particularly harrowing scene, Edward’s attorney attempts to rape Vivian.

Now, in a new Q&A about the film that took place in New York, former Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg has revealed that the film was not supposed to have a happy ending. Instead of finding love with her very own Prince Charming, Vivian was supposed to die from a drug overdose.

“I can’t tell you how much time we spent debating [that ending],” he said.

“As a script, Pretty Woman was an R-rated movie about a hooker on Hollywood Boulevard.

“By the way, in the original version – it’s pretty dark – I think she died of an overdose. So convincing [people] that we should make that at the Walt Disney Co., and that it's a fairy tale and a princess movie, a lot of people had a hard time seeing it.

“But, as they say, the rest is history.”

It’s not the first time that an alternative ending for the film has been revealed.

Last year, the movie’s scriptwriter, JF Lawton, explained that the film he originally pitched to studios did not feature the happy ending we’ve come to know and love (where he “rescues her” and she “rescues him right back”).

“During this whole thing, there was all this whole debate about 'How do we end it, how do we save her?' without it feeling like a cop-out,” he said, when asked about the “serious and dramatic” first version of Pretty Woman.

“They had auditioned Al Pacino, they had auditioned Michelle Pfeiffer, and it would definitely have been a different movie if had it been Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. It might have been closer to the original script and maybe not have had a happy ending.

“But the chemistry between Roberts and Gere, it is palpable on the screen, it was palpable in auditions. You can't really see how it could end any other way, because they just light up with each other.”

Images: Rex Pictures


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.