John Drew Barrymore, born John Blyth Barrymore, Jr., was a member of the Barrymore family of actors, which included his father, John Barrymore, and his father's siblings, Lionel and Ethel. He was the father of four children, including John Blyth Barrymore and Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore was born in Los Angeles, California to John Barrymore and Dolores Costello. He is Irish. His parents divorced when he was around three years old in 1935, and Barrymore claimed to have met his father only once. He also stated that he and his cousin, Dirk Drew Davenport, enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. As both were tall for their age, the military did not discover until several weeks later that the boys were below the minimum enlistment age. Barrymore ran away when he was 17 years old and signed a film contract, but repeatedly abandoned leading roles and had no major film career.
In 1958, he changed his middle name to Drew, although he had previously been credited in past works as Blyth. This was followed by a brief resurgence in Italian movies, as he appeared in several leading roles. However, Barrymore's social behavior obstructed any professional progress. In the 1960s, he was occasionally incarcerated for drug use, public drunkenness, and spousal abuse.
In 1966, Barrymore accepted a major guest role as Lazarus in the episode "The Alternative Factor". However, he failed to show up, resulting in a SAG suspension of six months. He did appear as Stacey Daggart in the 1966-1967 NBC series The Road West, starring Barry Sullivan.