Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery played a young widow. Then her fiancé died age 34.

Michelle Dockery spent three years playing a grieving widow in Downton Abbey. And then she became one herself.

While Dockery’s character Lady Mary lost her husband Matthew in a car crash, Dockery lost her fiancé John Dineen to cancer.

“One of the difficult things at the time was the parallels with Mary,” Dockery told The Guardian in 2017. “It was just baffling, and still is to me, that my character’s storyline was so similar.”

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Dineen died in December 2015, a week before the final episode of Downton Abbey aired in the UK. He was just 34 years old.

Dockery and Dineen, a public relations executive, started dating in 2013. Dockery never revealed much about him in interviews, except to say that she’d met him through her Irish Downton Abbey co-star Allen Leech, who played Tom Branson.

“I have a wonderful man in my life from Ireland,” she said in 2014. “We were introduced by Allen Leech. That’s all you need to know.”

Leech later spilled a bit more.

“John’s like family to me and I knew he’d really get on with Michelle,” he explained. “She’s a great girl – probably as far from Lady Mary as you could imagine.”

Dineen worked in London, and the couple were occasionally snapped together out in public, including at Wimbledon and the Venice Film Festival. Dockery posted photos of herself on social media wearing a jersey from Dineen’s favourite rugby club, Munster.\


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Hat on. Jersey on. Come on Munster! #munster #rugby

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Just months into their relationship, Dineen was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Dockery says he never complained, and that gave them both strength.

“It’s what keeps you going, that positivity – to never lose that hope for a miracle,” she told The Guardian.

They got engaged, and she was spotted showing off her ring to her co-stars on the Downton Abbey set. Despite her worries for her fiancé, she managed to finish filming the show’s last season, where Lady Mary was still struggling to deal with the trauma of Matthew’s car-crash death, years down the track.

But then came the news that Dineen’s cancer was terminal. In October 2015, Dockery pulled out of a stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Because Dineen was a private person and didn’t want to reveal the news of his cancer, no reason was given as to why Dockery was pulling out.

“Work didn’t matter,” Dockery later said. “You suddenly become an expert [in cancer]. This stuff becomes your world, and that of course was my priority.”

In December, Dockery flew with her Downton Abbey co-stars to the US to promote the show’s final season. But she cut her trip short and rushed back to Ireland when she heard Dineen didn’t have long left.

He died with Dockery and his family around him. At his funeral, Dockery sang his favourite song, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”, and spoke about him.


“Whether in his work or his personal life John was extremely loyal,” she said. “It was clear that when John was in your corner he was there. I was honoured to know John. To love him and be loved by him. He was my friend, my king, my hero, my everything.”

Dineen’s sister Trish said at the funeral that she had received a new “sister” and “angel” in Dockery.


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Even though Dockery never married Dineen, she refers to herself as a widow.

“We were engaged, and married at heart.”

Just as Lady Mary was a young widow, Dockery was only 33 when Dineen died. She says she wouldn’t expect anyone in her life to fully understand what it was like to lose him.

“You see things differently,” she told The Guardian. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone or expect them to know.”

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