The Story of His Life Beat All His Fiction
Writer Dominick Dunne (1925-2009) died this week of cancer.
Dominick Dunne's life was the stuff of Shakespeare, and I think he would love the fact that I said that. I was so sad to learn of his death recently from cancer. He was the kind of crime fighter Superman would have been if Superman had been real.
The word drama doesn't even do justice to the story arc of Dunne's life. Son of a wealthy Irish-Catholic surgeon, he attended the nation's most elite schools, starring in school plays with his friend Stephen Sondheim. He fought in World War II and returned with a Bronze Star. Then he went to New York and Hollywood where he went straight to the top, first as the director of the successful "Playhouse 90" and then as vice-president of Four Star Television.
But alcoholism and other personal demons caused him to lose it all. He knew everybody and then one day it was over. His addictions caused him to lose his marriage, his house, his savings, his career, and his family. He was fifty years old, an age at which it is challenging to make a comeback. He and his wife Ellen divorced. He wasn't in any shape to see much of his three children.
With borrowed money, driving a junky car, he headed to Oregon where he spent a year in a cheap cabin struggling with his demons and--miracle of miracle--writing his first book. It was like the deus ex machina in Greek tragedy. Something--God, his inner strength, AA--picked him up and brought him out to the clear air of hope again. The book was The Winners (1982). It was a success. He was clean and sober. He was back.
But the strange drama of his life continued. The year that first book was published, and just as he toiled on his next, which turned out to be a blockbuster (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles) his daughter, 23-year-old actress and rising star, Dominique Dunne (Poltergeist), was strangled to death by former boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, who had stalked her. Dominick Dunne, who attended the trial, was devastated and stunned when Sweeney was given just a six-and-a-half year sentence.
Actress Dominique Dunne (1959-1982)
This time Dunne did what healthy artists do: he used his anger. He spent the rest of his life writing best-selling novels and articles for Vanity Fair and other publications about murders among the rich and famous--often murders in which the rich and famous used expensive lawyers to avoid justice.
He covered the trial of OJ Simpson. He continually stood on the side of victims of violent crime who had to fight to get the wealthy into court. When defendants like Claus von Bulow, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, and the Menendez Brothers saw Dunne in court, they knew they were in for a tough time.
His brother was writer John Gregory Dunne. His sister-in-law, Joan Didion. He had a good pedigree. His career, family, and years in Hollywood and New York meant he knew everybody. He hobnobbed shamelessly and used it constantly in both his fiction and non-fiction. He clearly loved beautiful people (unless they were criminals) and beautiful things. When he anchored his show on Court TV (now Tru TV), Power, Privilege, and Justice, I loved seeing his bespoke suits, and Turnbull and Asser shirts, and Hermes ties, and the glimpse of the Sister Parish-like decor behind him in his antiques-filled penthouse. He was a character.
And he was a character with a heart. His sons Alexander and Griffin (the actor) will miss him. And I join them. I'm going to miss him too. And the rich and famous bad-guys? They won't miss him a bit.
Dominick Dunne Biography Wikipedia
The Murder of Dominique Dunne