Stefanie Powers was 24 years his junior and still in the early days of her career. She went on to fame as star of the Hart to Hart series. She had ended her marriage to Gary Lockwood by the time she met Holden.
They first met briefly at a New Year's party. It took their third meeting before he asked her out to dinner. They had discovered a mutual love of animals and environmentalism. Stefanie had first become interested in animal welfare when her stepfather took her as a child to a abbatoir to show her what happened to racehorses who had passed their prime. Holden had interests in animal preservation in Africa and had bought large tracts of land there to set up a sanctuary. Together they worked on animal rights, speaking internationally on preservation, decrying poaching and illegal hunting.
Stefanie said Holden taught her all she wanted to know and “He was the greatest influence on me and it was a deep and passionate love.”
In spite of the love he continued to battle his demons. During long periods with Stefanie he was able to stop drinking, but then when apart, he would begin again. She began to question her role as an enabler in his addiction and for the final few months before his death they had ceased to become a couple, remaining close friends.
Holden died in 1981 and the circumstances of his death are subject to interpretation. He had injured himself, from falling over a table, probably while intoxicated. When he was discovered, it was estimated he had probably been dead for four days Stefanie heard the news of his death on her car radio while driving to the set of Hart to Hart. She said, “I didn’t cope well at all. Robert Wagner was a comfort to me but Bill’s death took a lot out of me. I was in mourning for ages"
He was cremated and his ashes strewn over the ocean. At his wishes no service was held. He left a legacy to Stefanie to continue the conservation efforts they had shared. She is the President of the William Holden Wildlife Program and runs a game ranch and preserve in Kenya.
In 2008 her years of smoking caught up to her and Stefanie was diagnosed with lung cancer. Part of her lung was removed in 2009, but she bounced back and is still going strong.
Stefanie and William never married or had children, although he proposed to her several times. Still, he left behind a legacy, a legacy of love for wildlife and endangered species which she continues in his honour.