SIR Laurence Olivier's marriage to his third wife DAME Joan Plowright was nothing but a "hollow sham" according to a new biography.

The book, titled OLIVIER, claims that 15 years previous to the legendary movie star's death in 1989, his once peaceful marriage to the British actress had deteriorated so much it was just a "shell kept up for appearances and for the children".

The rift between the celebrity couple was so deep, in 1980 Plowright announced through her lawyers that she would "neither attend award functions for her husband nor accompany him on trips", and soon after refused to take his calls.

Historian Francis Beckett writes, "In New York, after tumultuous applause for him at a star gala, he said proudly; 'Let's telephone Joanie.' But Joan Plowright's maid told him; 'Lady Olivier says she's at dinner.'

"Olivier put down the telephone and, according to those who were there, there was shocked silence.

"At last Olivier said: 'Joan expected me to die when I was 70. Unfortunately I didn't.'"