Sean Flynn (photojournalist)

Sean Leslie Flynn (May 31, 1941 – April 6, 1970; declared legally dead in 1984)[1] was an American actor and freelance photojournalist best known for his coverage of the Vietnam War.[2]

Sean Flynn
Flynn (left) and Dana Stone (right), riding motorcycles into Communist-held territory in Cambodia on April 6, 1970  the day they disappeared
Sean Leslie Flynn

(1941-05-31)May 31, 1941
DisappearedApril 6, 1970 (aged 28)
Highway One, Cambodia
StatusDeclared dead in absentia, 1984
DiedApril 6, 1970
Alma materDuke University
OccupationPhotojournalist, actor
Years active1956-1970
Parent(s)Errol Flynn
Lili Damita

Flynn was the only child of Australian-American actor Errol Flynn and his first wife, French-American actress Lili Damita. After studying briefly at Duke University, he embarked on an acting career. He retired by the mid-1960s to become a freelance photojournalist under contract to Time.

In search of exceptional images, he traveled with special forces units and irregulars operating in remote areas. While on assignment in Cambodia in April 1970, Flynn and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone were captured by communist guerrillas. Neither man was seen or heard from again.

In 1984, Flynn's mother had him declared dead in absentia.

Early life

Flynn's parents separated when he was young. He was raised by his mother, Lili Damita. He graduated from The Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, in 1960 (Source: Lawrenceville Olla Podrida, school yearbook.)

Entertainment career

Flynn first appeared in front of the cameras at the age of fifteen, when he appeared in an episode of his father's television show, The Errol Flynn Theatre. The episode, "Strange Auction," was broadcast in the U.K. in 1956 and in the United States in 1957.

When Errol Flynn died, he left his son $5,000 to help with his college education (Errol left his two eldest daughters $10,000 each.)[3]

Flynn was studying at Duke University. Over a summer break in June 1960, he was visiting his mother in Fort Lauderdale. At the suggestion of his friend, actor George Hamilton, Flynn filmed a scene in Hamilton's picture Where the Boys Are, which was shooting in Fort Lauderdale at the time.[4][5] Most of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, but he can still be seen in a scene walking by wearing a blue "Xavier University" sweatshirt.[6]


In May 1961, at the age of 20, Flynn accepted a contract with Sage Western Pictures to appear in the 1962 Il Figlio del Capitano Blood, a sequel to his father's hit film Captain Blood. He was paid $110 a week for the testing period, going up to $10,000 for 12 weeks work in the film. As Flynn was still legally a minor he needed his mother's permission, which was granted.[7] The test was successful.[8] The film was released in the United States in 1964 as The Son of Captain Blood.

In 1962 George Hamilton announced that he wanted to make The Brothers, based on a story by Hamilton, starring himself and Flynn and Terry Thomas, but the film was never made.[9][10] Around this time his fiancé was Julie Payne, daughter of actors John Payne and Anne Shirley.[11] (A few years later he was engaged to Alessandra Panao.[12])

He made a few more films in Europe, including Il segno di Zorro (1963; released in 1964 as Duel at the Rio Grande), Verspätung in Marienborn with José Ferrer (1963; released in 1964 as Stop Train 349), Agent Special a Venise "Voir Venise et...Crever" (1964; sold to U.S. television syndication as Mission to Venice), and Sandok, Il Maciste della Jungla (1964; released in 1966 as Temple of the White Elephant).

Flynn became bored with acting, and he went to Africa in late 1964 to try his hand at being a guide for safaris and big-game hunting. He also spent time as a game warden in Kenya. In the latter part of 1965, he needed money, so he made two Spaghetti Westerns in Spain and Italy that were released in 1966: Sette Magnifiche Pistole (Seven Guns for Timothy) and Dos Pistolas Gemelas co-starring the Spanish twin performers Pili & Mili. In the summer of 1966, Flynn went to Singapore to star in his eighth and final film, the French-Italian action film Cinq Gars Pour Singapour (1967; released in 1968 as Five Ashore in Singapore).

Singing career

In September 1961 it was announced Flynn had signed a recording contract for a company known as Hi-Fidelity R.V. Records, and had already recorded four songs for them.[13]

Two came out "Stay in My Heart" b/w "Secret Love". The songs were released regionally as a 45rpm single (Arvee 5043). The single is now a rare collector's item.[14]

Photojournalism career


Flynn arrived in South Vietnam in January 1966 as a freelance photojournalist, first for the French magazine Paris Match, then for Time Life, and finally for United Press International. His photos were soon published around the world. He made a name for himself as one of a group of high-risk photojournalists (which included Dana Stone, Tim Page, Henri Huet, John Steinbeck IV, Perry Deane Young, Nik Wheeler, Chas Gerretsen, and others) who would do anything to get the best pictures, even go into combat.

In March 1966, Flynn was wounded in the knee while in the field.

In April 1966 he was on patrol with some Green Berets and Chinese mercenaries, Nungs, when they were ambushed by the Viet Cong. Flynn was carrying an M-16 rifle at the time and had to fight his way out along with the other soldiers. "I thought not only me but all of us were greased." Flynn had been given the rifle by the Green Berets and been under fire with them before.[15]

In May he was the only journalist who made it into the Tinh Hai pagoda in Da Nang.[16]

In June 1966, he left Vietnam long enough to star in his last movie. It was to be shot in Paris and Singapore based on the 1959 novel, Cinq Gars Pour Singapour by Jean Bruce and was tentatively called OSS117 Goes to Singapore, but was released as Cinq Gars Pour Singapour (Five Ashore in Singapore.).[17]

He returned to Vietnam. In November 1966 he was credited with saving an Australian platoon from being decimated by a mine by identifying the mine while photographing the troops near Vung Tau.[18]

He made a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in December 1966.

In February 1967 he and Hamilton went on a skiing holiday in Lebanon.[19]


In 1967, he went to Israel to cover the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Return to Vietnam

He returned to Vietnam in 1968, after the Tet offensive.

In September 1968 he was working as a cameraman for CBS when he was injured slightly by grenade fragments while shooting a battle between US and enemy forces 85 miles south of Danang.[20]

He went to Cambodia in early 1970, when news broke of North Vietnamese advances into that country.


On April 6, 1970, Flynn and a group of journalists left Phnom Penh to attend a government sponsored press conference in Saigon. Flynn (who was freelancing) and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone (who was on assignment for CBS News) chose to travel on motorcycles instead of the limousines that the majority of the other journalists were traveling in (the limousines had been previously used by tourists before the journalists took them over). Reporter Steve Bell, who was one of the last Westerners to see the two alive, later said that after the press conference, Flynn and Stone had got word that there was a checkpoint on Highway 1 manned by members of the Viet Cong. Eager to get a photograph of the Viet Cong, Flynn and Stone decided to set out on Highway 1 alone.[21] Before they left, Bell snapped the last known photo taken of Flynn and Stone.[22]

Four other journalists  two Frenchmen and two Japanese  had also been captured by the Viet Cong inside Cambodia on the same day.[23] By June 1970, 25 journalists had been captured in Cambodia in the previous three weeks. Three had been killed, some returned and others were missing.[24]

Flynn and Stone were never seen or heard from again and their bodies have never been found.[25]

Although it is known that Flynn and Stone were captured by Viet Cong guerrillas at a checkpoint on Highway 1, their true fate is unknown. Citing various government sources, it is believed that they were executed by factions of the Khmer Rouge.[26]

Flynn's mother, Lili Damita, spent an enormous amount of money searching for her son, with no success.[27] In 1984 she had him declared legally dead. She died in 1994.[21]

In 1991 remains of two men were found in Cambodia; In 2003, the Pentagon's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii confirmed by DNA testing that the remains found by Tim Page were actually of Clyde McKay, a boat hijacker, and Larry Humphrey, an army deserter.[28]

In March 2010, a British team searching for Flynn's body uncovered the remains of a Western hostage allegedly executed by the Khmer Rouge.[29] Test results on the human remains found at the grave site in eastern Kampong Cham province, Cambodia, were released on June 30, 2010, and were found not to be the remains of Sean Flynn. Lt. Col. Wayne Perry of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) said there was no match between DNA from the recovered remains and DNA samples they had on file from the Flynn family.[30]

Dennis Hopper's character in the film Apocalypse Now is said to have been based on Flynn.

The story of Flynn was recounted by The Clash in the song "Sean Flynn" from the album Combat Rock.[22]

Flynn has a prominent role in Michael Herr's book about his experiences as a war correspondent, Dispatches.

Flynn was portrayed by Kevin Dillon in the 1992 British/Australian miniseries Frankie's House, based on a book by Flynn's friend and colleague, photojournalist Tim Page.[31]

In August 2008, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Mythic Films had optioned the rights to the Perry Deane Young memoir, Two of the Missing. At that time, Young was working on a screenplay with director Ralph Hemecker.[32]

In 2011, a film inspired by Sean Flynn as a photojournalist entitled The Road to Freedom was filmed on Location in Cambodia by Director Brendan Moriarty.[33]


See also


  1. Young, Perry Deane; Two of the Missing: Remembering Sean Flynn & Dana Stone p. 271 (Press 53: 2009) ISBN 978-0-9816280-9-7
  2. Roth, Mitchel P. (1997). Historical Dictionary of War Journalism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-313-29171-5.
  3. Bulk of flynn estate left to widow; see court fight. (1959, Oct 22). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  4. Flynn's son making his movie debut. (1960, Jun 27). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. Hopper, H. (1960, Jul 16). London stage role interests stewart. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. Flynn, Rory, "The Baron of Mulholland--A Daughter Remembers Errol Flynn" p. 103, (Xlibris Corp.: 2006) ISBN 978-1-4257-1250-1
  7. Errol flynn's son, 20, gets film contract. (1961, May 27). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. FILMLAND EVENTS. (1961, Sep 08). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. Scheuer, P. K. (1962, Apr 30). Paul gallico story sold to seven arts. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. By A.H. WEILER. (1963, May 26). OBSERVATIONS FROM A LOCAL VANTAGE POINT. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. Scheuer, P. K. (1962, Jul 26). Harold lloyd makes world laugh again. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  12. Fabian's feeling strength of age. (1964, Jan 25). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from
  13. YOUNG FLYNN'S DISC CONTRACT APPROVED. (1961, Sep 22). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  14. 45 Discography for Arvee/Orbit/HiFi Records, retrieved 26 December 2008
  15. Flynn's son baffles out of red trap. (1966, Apr 27). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  16. Flynn, S. (1966, May 22). Dead in pagoda await burial. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  17. Erroll Flynn's son off to Paris for spy film role. (1966, Jun 01). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  18. FLYNN'S SON CREDITED WITH SAVING AUSSIES. (1966, Nov 30). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  19. Hamilton goes skiing. (1967, Feb 11). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from
  20. Errol flynn's son hurt. (1968, Sep 02). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  21. "How Errol Flynn's son was lost in Cambodia – all but a pile of bones". March 31, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  22. King, Tim (May 15, 2008). "Remembering Sean Flynn: A Photojournalist Who Died at War". Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  23. Hear cong in cambodia seize errol flynn's son, 4 others. (1970, Apr 07). Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  24. Dudman, R. (1970, Jun 17). Writer tells of reds' captivity. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  25. By, R. B. (1972, Jul 07). Has she given up hope of seeing her husband alive? 'oh, no!'. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  26. PYLE, Richard & FAAS, Horst. Lost over Laos; a true story of tragedy, mystery, and friendship pp. 43-45. (Da Capo Press: 2003) ISBN 0-306-81251-7 Accessed Via Google Books June 21, 2009
  27. Meyers, Jeffrey; Inherited Risk: Errol Flynn and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam p. 318 (Simon & Schuster: 2002) ISBN 0-7432-1090-5
  28. Unresloved mysteries
  29. "Found in a Cambodian jungle - but are they the remains of Errol Flynn's war photographer son? | Mail Online". March 27, 2010. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  30. Sean Flynn not buried in Cambodia war grave, The Daily Telegraph. June 30, 2010.
  31. Ross, John (February 22, 1993). "Television: Indochina Syndrome". New York Magazine. 26 (8): 62. ISSN 0028-7369.
  32. "Movie about Sean Flynn to be made". The Hollywood Reporter. August 14, 2008. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  33. Gilsdorf, Ethan (October 3, 2011). "Road to Freedom". Retrieved March 27, 2015.
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