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Dominick Dunne ( 1925 - 2009 )  Category ( Writers ) [suggest a correction]
 

Sometimes, Dominick Dunne covered the news. Other times, he was the news.

The son of a Hartford, CT heart surgeon and an heiress, Dunne went from a wealthy childhood to being drafted for World War II, where he received a Bronze Star. Upon his return from war-torn Europe, he graduated from Williams College and moved to New York to start a television career. His first job was as stage manager for "The Howdy Doody Show."

A series of production credits followed, and Dunne parlayed them into a foot in the door in Hollywood. There, he became a jack of all creative trades (actor, producer, writer) and regular at celebrity parties. At first, he was in demand as a guest because of his erudite eastern wit. Fueled by alcohol, however, that wit often turned mean and sarcastic, and Dunne found himself gradually blacklisted. Then his primary vice switched from drink to cocaine, and his wife left him.

Eventually, Dunne rented a cabin back in the Oregon Cascades and remained there, drying out, for six months. Back in Los Angeles, he started getting invited to parties again and channeling his critical bent into writing about the social scene in Southern California.

Dunne's brother, John Gregory, was also a screenwriter and novelist. Joan Didion was his sister-in-law, and two of his children, Domonique and Griffin, became actors.

A personal tragedy -- Dominique's violent death  in 1982 -- pushed Dunne onto another track. She was strangled in her driveway during a domestic dispute by her ex-boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, a Los Angeles chef, and died in a hospital four days later. Her father wrote an article for Vanity Fair on the case and Sweeney's trial (he received just six years for manslaughter and was out in four) and became a specialist in celebrity court cases.

Later, when Sweeney was hired as the chef at Ma Maison in Santa Monica, the Dunne family stood outside in protest bearing a sign that read: "The hands that prepared your food strangled Domonique Dunne." Sweeney was quickly let go, changed his name, and left town.

Meanwhile, Dominick Dunne covered the trials of such misbehaving members of the rich and famous as Claus von Bulow, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, the Menendez brothers and, most famously, O.J. Simpson. His articles for Vanity Fair and other outlets were lively, glib and anything but unbiased.

Dunne overstepped the line in the case of Congressman Gary Condit, however, whom he strongly and publically suggested may have killed his aide, Chandra Levy. Condit was never charged and ultimately received a cash settlement and apology from Dunne.

Dunne also hosted a Court TV program, "Privilege and Justice."

He died Aug. 26, 2009 of bladder cancer. The final irony is that his death was upstasged by that of Sen. Ted Kennedy a day earlier.


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