Born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, he had a confused and unhappy childhood. His mother was removed to a mental institution, where she spent the rest of her life, when Archie Leach was only nine. Grant's father never told him the truth, leaving his son abandoned by one parent and betrayed by the other. He only learned twenty years later that she was still alive.
That left Archie Leach/Cary Grant with both a certain insecurity in his relations with women and a secretiveness about his inner life that may explain his bravado and charm. Those traits also come through more directly in many of his performances, in films as different as "Suspicion" and "Notorious," directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and tear-jerkers, such as "Mr. Lucky."
Grant's unhappy childhood also, by Grant's own account, led him to crave applause and attention and to create a new persona that would attract it. After being expelled, in 1918 (from Fairfield School, Bristol) for an incident involving the girls' toilets, he joined the Bob Pender stage troupe. Grant traveled with the troupe to the United States in 1920 for a two year tour; when the troupe returned to the United Kingdom, Grant stayed, creating over time that unique accent and persona that mixed working and upper class accents as he supported himself as, among other things, a hawker. After some success in light Broadway comedies, he made it to Hollywood in 1931, where he acquired the name "Cary Grant". He became an American citizen on June 26th, 1942.
Grant starred in some of the classic screwball comedies, including The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne, Bringing Up Baby with Katherine Hepburn and His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell. His performances in "The Awful Truth", "His Girl Friday" and The Philadelphia Story with Hepburn established his best-known screen role: the charming, if sometimes unreliable, man, formerly married to an intelligent and strong-willed woman who first divorced him, then realized that he was, with all his faults, irresistible. Grant subsequently took that character in a far darker direction in Suspicion, directed by Hitchcock, without somehow losing his charm or his audience's devotion.
Grant was a versatile actor, who did demanding physical comedy in movies like "Gunga Din" with the skills he had learned on the stage. Hitchcock, who was notorious for disliking actors, was very fond of Grant, saying that Grant was "the only actor I ever loved in my whole life". Howard Hawks was just as devoted, saying that Grant was "so far the best that there isn't anybody to be compared to him".
He was one of Hollywood's top box-office attractions for several decades. Although twice nominated for an Academy Award, he never won but was honored in 1970 with a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1981, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.
His fourth marriage was to actress Dyan Cannon, with whom he had his only child, a daughter.
In the last few years of his life, Grant undertook tours of the USA with his "An Evening with Cary Grant", in which he would show clips from his films and afterward hold a question-and-answer session with the audience. It was just before one of these performances — in Davenport, Iowa — that Grant suffered a severe stroke and died in hospital a few hours later. His cremated ashes were given to his family.