by Shannonn Kelly
7:40AM, EST, August 29, 2009
Over shadowed by the death of Ted Kennedy, best-selling author, investigative journalist and special correspondent for Vanity Fair, Dominick Dunne, died on August 26 from a battle with bladder cancer at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.
Dunne is the father of deceased daughter, actress Dominique Dunne, Poltergeist (1982) and boys Alexander Dunne and actor Griffin Dunne, An American Werewolf in London (1981) who made the announcement of his father’s death public on Wednesday.
In 1954, Dunne married married Ellen Beatriz Griffin and they moved from New York to Los Angeles when Griffin was born.
Rising through the ranks as a Hollywood producer (and also failing miserably with back-to-back bombs), Dominick realized some thing had to change. Drugs and alcohol were taking over his life, so in 1975 he drove himself up to a cabin in the woods of Oregon. Living alone in that cabin for about 6 months and at age 50, Dunne began to write.
His first novel, The Winners (1982), had moderate success. While at Vanity Fair, he wrote bestsellers including: The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1985), Fatal Charms: And Other Tales of Today (1987), People Like Us (1988), An Inconvenient Woman (1990), A Season in Purgatory (1993), Another City, Not My Own (1997), based on the O.J. Simpson trial; The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-known Name Dropper (1999), Justice: Crimes, Trials, And Punishments (2001). He also wrote essays and collections such as The Mansions of Limbo (1991).
At the time of his death, Dunne was working on his book Too Much Money.
Dunne’s filmography includes: Producer, The Boys in the Band (1970), The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It as It Lays (1972), Ash Wednesday (1973) and the long running crime series Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice which began broadcast in 2002.
Dunne was surrounded by writers in his family, as he is the brother of author John Gregory Dunne and the writer Joan Didion was his sister-in-law.
Throughout his life, Dunne was a vocal advocate for victims’ rights. His first article for the March 1984 issue of Vanity Fair was an article about the trial of the man who murdered his daughter Dominique. His literary success stemmed from this tragedy. When his daughter was strangled to death by her boyfriend, John Sweeney, he was only sentenced to 6 years for voluntary manslaughter, of which Sweeney ultimately served only 2 years.
Enraged by the injustice, Dunne was persuaded by Vanity Fair’s then editor, Tina Brown, suggested Dunne go at Sweeney in print. The article was a huge success.
Dunne undoubtedly covered some of the highest profile celebrity trials in pop culture history including Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, Claus von Bulow, the Menedez brothers, O.J. Simpson and most recently, Phil Spector.
Dunne on O. J. Simpson:
Dunne always believed that O J Simpson was guilty of murdering his wife. When the famous “not guilty” verdict was delivered, in front of a TV audience of 100 million, he was visible in the background, gasping in disbelief.
Last year, after covering the Las Vegas kidnapping trial that finally landed Simpson in prison, Dunne recalled: “I had quite a few chats with O J. I found him to be a lonely figure with a wrecked life. This is the verdict that should have come 13 years ago.”
Dunne also covered then president Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings. Dunne’s insider knowledge from direct contact set Dunne apart from other investigative journalists as most of his subjects traveled in the same celebrity circles as himself.
According to Guy Adams:
Dominick Dunne’s unique selling-point was his ability to combine lofty social status with the mischeviousness of a gossip columnist. Though friendly with a slew of the Hollywood elite, from Humphrey Bogart and Mia Farrow to Michael Jackson and Liz Taylor, he wasn’t afraid to have an adversarial relationship with their peers.
In one legendary incident during the 1960s, Frank Sinatra – with whom he had feuded for several years – paid a waiter at Daisy, the Beverly Hills nightclub to walk up to Dunne’s table and punch him in the face.
Although I’m not religious one of my favorite quotes has to do with Dunne’s origins growing up a Roman Catholic, when the latest pope was introduced to the world:
“I am so bummed out. I had gotten all excited about Catholicism again. I just loved all the people and ceremony of the last few weeks, all the hundreds of thousands in the square. I was out to lunch when I heard, ‘It’s the German.’ You could just feel everyone groan.”
My condolences to his immediate family and to his literary family. Dominick was an unusual writer with a quick wit and enormous curiosity.
To watch clip of Dominick Dunne, please click here.