Ava Gardner, a North Carolina sharecropper's daughter who became one of the most bewitching movie actresses in the world, died of pneumonia yesterday at her home in the Kensington section of London. She was 67 years old.
The star's death was announced by Paul Mills, a longtime friend and film producer, who said she had been ill for some time, particularly with respiratory problems, and had a stroke more than three years ago.
The actress had lived quietly in London for more than 30 year after being hounded for decades by photographers and reporters who publicized her marriages to Mickey Rooney, the band leader Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra and her flamboyant escapades with matadors, international playboys and writers.
Working on Her Memoirs
Miss Gardner, who had been completing her memoirs, said in a recent interview, ''If you don't tell your side, the self-appointed biographers step in, adding to the abysmal lies.''
The actress, whose green eyes, chestnut hair, high cheekbones and sensual lips made her eminently photogenic, was known for femme fatale portrayals.
She brought a tigresslike seductiveness and a husky-voiced irreverence to roles as worldly, devil-may-care women, becoming adept at playing exotic vamps and free-spirited protagonists, as in films of such Ernest Hemingway stories as ''The Killers'' (1946), ''The Snows of Kilimanjaro'' (1952) and ''The Sun Also Rises'' (1957). In the loosely autobiographical ''Barefoot Contessa'' (1954), she played a fiery dancer who becomes a movie star.
Praise for Later Roles
She portrayed torch singers in ''The Hucksters'' (1947) and ''Show Boat'' (1951); an irrepressible playgirl in ''Mogambo'' (a 1953 role for which she won an Academy Award nomination); a tormented Anglo-Indian in ''Bhowani Junction'' (1956); a thoughtful cosmopolitan in ''On the Beach'' (1959), and a blowsy innkeeper in the film of Tennessee Williams's ''Night of the Iguana'' (1964).
Although she was mainly decorative in most of her early roles and many reviewers said her acting range was narrow, she won wide praise for many later performances. Nonetheless, she consistently denigrated her talent, remarking to a 1985 interviewer: ''Listen, honey, I was never really an actress. None of us kids who came from M-G-M were. We were just good to look at.''
Poverty in Childhood
Ava Lavinia Gardner was born on Dec. 24, 1922, in Grabton, a poor community outside Smithfield, N.C., to Jonas Bailey Gardner, a tobacco and cotton farmer, and Mary Elizabeth Gardner. Her father died when she was 16, and her mother then managed a boardinghouse.
Her childhood was marked by poverty and a wardrobe so meager it prompted ridicule from schoolmates. She took commercial courses in high school, and an older brother paid her tuition so she could continue secretarial studies for a year at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C.
At 18, she visited her eldest sister, Beatrice, in New York City, on a journey that transformed her life. Her brother-in-law, Larry Tarr, a commercial photographer, took a portfolio of pictures of her and sent them to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She was given a screen test in New York that was made without sound because of her heavy Southern drawl. The 1941 test won her a seven-year M-G-M contract and intensive diction lessons as well as a starlet's standard classes in acting, calisthenics, makeup and fashion.
Her next five years were notable for tiny roles in a score of mostly forgettable movies, a blizzard of publicity pictures - and two brief marriages, to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw. Each marriage ended in separation after less than a year and finally in divorce.
The 69-year-old Mr. Rooney, upon learning of her death, said yesterday, ''My heart is broken with the loss of my first love.''
Ava with husbands Mickey Rooney, left, and Artie Shaw, right.