The Hollywood Book of Death : The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols

The Hollywood Book of Death : The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols

by James Robert Parish


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809222278
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 10/29/2001
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 311,859
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James Robert Parish, a former entertainment reporter and publicist, is the author of more than 90 books. A well-known authority on show business, he appears frequently as an expert on A&E's "Biography" and E! Television's "Mysteries and Scandals," as well as numerous other network and cable television documentaries.

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The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols

By James Robert Parish

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 James Robert Parish
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8092-2227-8



Accidental Deaths

Nick Adams
[Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock]
July 10, 1931–February 7, 1968

Compact, blond Nick Adams was the quintessential movie fan, with a burning desire to become a movie star—no matter what. The restless son of immigrant parents from the Ukraine, he grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. Later in life he would admit, "Movies were my life, you had to have an escape when you were living in a basement. I saw all the Cagney, Bogart, and Garfield pictures—the ones where a guy finally got a break. Odds against the world—that was my meat."

Not yet in his 20s, Nick hitchhiked to Los Angeles, where he initially had no luck in breaking into the film industry. Discouraged, he joined the Coast Guard in 1952. On weekend leaves he would return to Hollywood, where he finally talked his way into a role as a sailor in Mister Roberts (1955), engineering a 90-day leave to complete the part. For a brief assignment in the Western Strange Lady in Town (1955, with Greer Garson), he arranged a three-day pass.

After his release from the service, the determined Nick gained a role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which starred his pal James Dean and Natalie Wood (who was his lover briefly). Nick's big break occurred when he was cast as Andy Griffith's bespectacled sidekick in the military comedy No Time for Sergeants (1958). Adams reached his show-business pinnacle as the star of the TV series The Rebel (1959–61), playing a crusading ex-Confederate officer in the old West. His next effort, Saints and Sinners, came and went in the 1962–63 TV season.

Returning to movies, the determined Adams had a splashy role as an accused killer in Richard Chamberlain's Twilight of Honor (1963). He then spent eight thousand dollars campaigning to receive an Academy Award for the showcase part. He was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category that year, but lost the coveted prize. Nick's career began to slide dramatically, and he was reduced to appearing in such trashy low-budget features as Frankenstein Meets the Giant Devil Fish (1967) and Mission Mars (1968).

Offscreen, the overachieving Nick (noted for being a genuinely nice guy) became increasingly nervous about his wobbly career and his faltering marriage (he and his wife had separated after having two children). On the night of February 7, 1968, Nick was found dead in his West Los Angeles home—braced against the bedroom wall with his eyes wide open—by his lawyer, Evin Roder. The cause of death was given as an "accidental" overdose of paraldehyde, a sedative that Nick's doctor had prescribed to calm his overactive nerves. He was buried in Berwick, Pennsylvania, not far from Nanticoke, the town where he was born. Nick Adams might well have been another victim of the curse that brought an early death to all the stars (including James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo) of Rebel Without a Cause.

Sonny Bono
[Salvatore Phillip Bono]
February 16, 1935–January 5, 1998

It was comedian Rodney Dangerfield who made famous the expression, "I don't get no respect." But in many ways, this was the story of Sonny Bono's life. People tended to laugh at him, and he had to laugh too at the bizarre twists and turns of his life. Yet the shrewd Sonny had four different careers (pop musician, TV personality, restaurateur, politician) and he was successful at each of them. Behind those trademark bangs and diminutive figure, he just refused to fail, and was creative enough to reinvent himself constantly.

He was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1935, the youngest child of Sicilian immigrants Santo and Jean Bono. The impoverished Bono clan moved to Los Angeles when Salvatore was seven. His mother operated a small dress shop, and his dad earned the minimum wage as a trucker. Eventually, his parents divorced, and this devastated the boy.

At Inglewood High School, Sonny was not much for studies. He was far more interested in writing songs, even though he never learned to read music and only knew four chords on the piano. After dropping out of school, Sonny worked as a butcher's boy, a waiter, and a delivery boy, all the while writing songs. He sent R & B artist Johnny Otis his song "Ecstasy," and was thrilled to hear it played on the radio. He married waitress Donna Rankin in 1954; they would have one daughter, Christine. Determined to break into the music industry, Sonny forced himself to write a song a day. He eventually got a job at Specialty Records, the home of Sam Cooke and Little Richard. He even started his own record company, and when that flopped, he bounced back and became a record promoter.

By the early 1960s, Sonny was divorced and working for Phil Spector at Philles Records. He was also singing background music for such groups as the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers and, as always, writing a flow of songs. Everything changed in 1962 when he met the sloe-eyed, exotic Cherilyn LaPiere, who physically towered over him. At first they were platonic friends who decided to work together, sometimes performing as "Cesar & Cleo." But eventually, a romance blossomed, and they were wed in Tijuana, Mexico, in October 1964. (That same year, a relationship with another woman led to the birth of Sonny's illegitimate son, Sean.) Now billed as Sonny & Cher, the duo made a big breakthrough in 1965 with "I Got You, Babe," which Bono had written for his wife.

By the end of 1967, with such hits as "What Now, My Love" and "The Beat Goes On," Sonny & Cher had sold more than 40 million records around the globe. For many fans, the duo's modest hipness, along with their ever-changing mod wardrobes, made them a big fascination. Sonny and Cher were the undisputed king and queen of soft rock.

Sonny, 11 years older than Cher, was publicized as the brains of the duo, and he wanted to be the mentor of his young wife. But mammoth success (along with their fantastic array of material possessions and living quarters) overwhelmed both of them. By 1967, when they made their film debut in the quickly dismissed Good Times, their careers were on the downswing. Wanting to have a showcase for Cher on camera, they helped finance Chastity (1969), which Sonny directed. It was a costly flop. The embarrassing movie shared the same name as their daughter, Chastity Bono, born on March 4, 1969.

Nearly broke, Sonny and Cher took to the road, playing nightclubs across the country. The change of venue allowed them to develop their show-business act, which would become a hit on TV in the near future. The gimmick was having the sassy, savvy Cher put down her game but lame spouse—about anything from his height to his Italian accent to his singing capabilities. When he would retort, the barbs would bounce off the blasé acting Cher. Audiences loved it! The duo got their first TV series, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, in the summer of 1971, which led profitably to the show reappearing in late 1971 and lasting through 1974. Once again, they were back on top—and spending money as if there was an infinite supply of it.

By 1974, the novelty of their TV show was wearing off—for both the couple and the public. That spring, the Bonos announced that they were separating and ending their TV series. The next year, Cher wed rock singer Gregg Allman. (That union would be short-lived, although it produced their son, Elijah Blue, born in September 1976.) Sonny and Cher buried the hatchet after their solo TV shows failed, reteaming for a last-hurrah series in 1976. But viewers were no longer charmed, and the program went off the air in 1977.

On his own, Sonny stayed afloat by making appearances on other TV series and in schlocky TV movies. In 1982, he married Susie Coelho, but the union fell apart by 1984. In the mid-1980s, he had his own restaurant, Bono, located in West Hollywood. There Sonny, age 50, met the 22-year-old Mary Whitaker, a recent University of Southern California graduate whom he wed in 1986. The couple moved to Palm Springs, California, where Sonny opened a new Italian restaurant.

In 1987, Sonny registered as a Republican so he could vote for the first time, a sign of things to come. In 1988, the year John Waters hired him for a solid role in the fun movie Hairspray, Sonny and Cher reunited on David Letterman's late-night talk show. They wowed viewers when they sang their trademark number, "I Got You, Babe." Also that year, to the bewilderment of pundits everywhere, Sonny ran for mayor of Palm Springs—and won. He took the job seriously, garnering a great deal of publicity for both himself and the city along the way. His political career did have a setback in 1989, when angry constituents tried for a recall vote, upset about their mayor doing beer commercials. His autobiography, And the Beat Goes On, was published in 1991.

Excited by the world of politics, Sonny ran for the Senate on the Republican ticket, but he lost the race. Undaunted, he made a bid for Congress in 1994 and won this time. When he began his congressional job, it was estimated that this millionaire was 1 of the 50 richest members of the 104th Congress. Sonny purchased a $684,000 house in Georgetown for himself, Mary, and their children, Cesare (age seven) and Chianna (age four). All he had to do now was earn the respect of his peers in Congress—and the approval of Cher—for once again, she was making cracks to the media about Sonny's new career. One of his first tasks as a congressman was to serve as chairman of the House's Entertainment Industry Task Force.

During the Christmas holiday in 1997, Sonny was at home in Palm Springs with his family. In early January 1998, Sonny and Mary took their two children to Lake Tahoe for a vacation at the Heavenly Resort. On January 5, they were out on the slopes of South Lake Tahoe on the Upper Orion ski run. About 1:30 P.M., the family was skiing on an intermediate slope. Chianna took a slight tumble, and Mary and Cesare stopped to assist her. Sonny told Mary he was going to go down in another direction, and then skied off the path and in among the trees—which adept skiers often do.

Thereafter, no one heard anything from Sonny. But six hours later, news came that a body had been found on the mountain. Mary demanded to be taken to the site, and her worst fears proved to be true when she saw Sonny's frozen face. He had died of massive head injuries from skiing head-on into a 40-foot-high pine tree.

At the time, it was a mystery why Sonny would have done what he did on the slopes. There was speculation that he might have been high, but there was no official evidence of drug or alcohol abuse. But, as his wife would tell TV Guide magazine in November 1998, "When he died, his blood level was in the therapeutic range for Vicodin and Valium. He had taken what had been prescribed legitimately by a doctor. But you know these drugs come with a warning, DO NOT OPERATE MACHINERY or whatever."

A private service for family and friends was held on Wednesday, January 7, in Palm Springs at Sonny's home. The public funeral was that Friday at St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church. A large color portrait of a grinning Sonny was positioned near his flagdraped, $10,000 mahogany casket. There were 1,400 mourners. (Another 2,500 stood in the rain outside, listening to the service on a loudspeaker.) Attendees from the political world included former Vice President Dan Quayle, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former President Gerald Ford, and California Governor Pete Wilson. Entertainers Suzanne Somers, Tony Orlando, Jerry Vale, Jack Scalia, and Morton Downey Jr. were on hand.

Cher provided a teary eulogy in which she said, "Some people were under the misconception that Sonny was a short man, but he was heads and tails taller than anyone else." She also noted: "What people don't realize is that he created Sonny and Cher.... He had the confidence to be the butt of the joke because he created the joke." After the Mass, a procession of hundreds of cars drove to the cemetery at Desert Memorial Park. There, Sonny was given a 21-gun salute by a military honor guard because he had been a member of Congress. Mary Bono and their children then released dozens of doves into the sky; finally, each member of Sonny's family placed a red rose on the coffin. Cher, among others, did the same. The deceased was then interred at the cemetery in section B-35.

During the week of mourning after Sonny's death, Cher spent much time at Sonny's Spanish-style villa in the hills above Palm Springs. She and Mary comforted one another and their children. The media jumped on Sonny's passing, and it became a prolonged three-ring circus, with everyone vying to say who cared for the late entertainer more, and in what way. (Mary Bono admitted to the press that her marriage to Sonny "was a very difficult 12 years of my life." In contrast, Cher, who had been in London at the time her ex-husband died, said, "He was the love of my life.... There has never been another man in my life like him.")

To the surprise of many, Mary chose to run for the special election (which was held on April 7, 1998) to serve the rest of her husband's term in Congress. She won and became a highly visible participant on Capitol Hill. Then there was the question of Sonny's new will, which he had drawn up weeks before his death, but never signed. It would have named Mary sole executor of the large estate. Instead, she was appointed administrator.

There seemed to be a rush of Sonny & Cher creative projects after his death. Cher hosted a very sentimental one-hour TV special, Sonny & Me, which aired in May 1998. Her own autobiography, The First Time, was published that fall. In February 1999 came the television movie, And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story, based on Sonny's earlier book. It featured Jay Underwood and Renee Faia as the famous couple. Sonny's widow was a producer and consultant on the film, but oddly enough, Cher was not. There was also the documentary The Life and Times of Sonny Bono (1999), a profile of the prolific songwriter, entrepreneur, and politician.

Despite the tremendous worldwide hoopla when he passed away, Sonny Bono was astute enough to know that eminence is relatively fleeting. A few years before he died, he had this to say about clinging to fame: "You're just borrowing it. It's like money. You're going to die, and somebody else is going to get it."

Jeff Chandler
[Ira Grossel]

December 15, 1918–June 17, 1961

Ruggedly handsome, six-foot, four-inch Jeff Chandler was only 42 years old when he died. The square-jawed hunk, with prematurely gray, curly hair and chiseled features, was the picture of health until he suffered a slipped disk while making Merrill's Marauders (1961), a World War II combat movie. Simple corrective surgery was performed at a Culver City, California, hospital. The strapping patient should have been up and about in no time. Due to medical misadventure, however, he died.

The future actor was born Ira Grossel in Brooklyn. He was raised by his mother after his parents separated. He attended local Erasmus Hall High School (where the future screen star Susan Hayward was a classmate). Certain he wanted a career in the creative arts, he took art courses and then enrolled briefly at the Feagin School of Dramatic Art in New York City. He negotiated a job with a Long Island stock company, first as a stagehand and then as an actor. In 1941, Grossel and a pal began a little theater company (the Shady Lane Playhouse) in Elgin, Illinois. However, after Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, he joined the army, where he was stationed mostly in the Aleutian Islands.

By the end of 1945, he was a civilian living in Los Angeles. While doing a radio job, he was discovered by Dick Powell and given a small role in Powell's Johnny O'Clock (1947). By now he was known as Jeff Chandler and spent much of the next two years on radio in shows like Mr. Dana; Michael Shayne, Detective; and as Eve Arden's love interest in Our Miss Brooks. Universal Pictures cast him as an Israeli leader in Sword in the Desert (1949), where his masculine looks registered strongly with moviegoers. He joined the studio's roster of young leading men, which included Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson.

In 1950 Chandler was cast in the first of several Native American roles (as Cochise) in Broken Arrow, starring Jimmy Stewart. Chandler was Oscar-nominated for his three-dimensional performance. As a Universal contract player, he plowed through several action pictures. Along the way, he developed a real screen magnetism and played opposite several smoldering leading ladies: Jane Russell (Foxfire, 1955), Jeanne Crain (The Tattered Dress, 1958), and Susan Hayward (Thunder in the Sun, 1959).

Always ambitious, Jeff was constantly proving himself. Having shown he could play a range of roles on camera, he broke into the recording industry and signed a contract in 1954 with Decca Records, completing several singles and an album. In May 1957, he appeared at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas as a vocalist. In addition, Chandler, who played the violin and wrote music, started his own music publishing company. Likewise, as many stars in the 1950s did, he formed his own movie production company to produce films such as Drango (1957).

Jeff had married actress Marjorie Hoshelle in 1946, and they had two daughters (Jamie and Dana). The couple separated in 1954 but then reconciled. In late 1957, Jeff and aquatic movie star Esther Williams (herself recently divorced) costarred together in Raw Wind in Eden (1958) and became very good friends. They saved most of their passion for off camera and, in 1959, Hoshelle sued Chandler for divorce. Ironically, by 1960 when the decree became final, Jeff and Esther had drifted apart.

Chandler continued to turn out movies and went on location to the Philippines for Merrill's Marauders in early 1961. When he returned to Los Angeles, he underwent surgery on May 13 for the slipped disk. Following the relatively uncomplicated operation, he suffered internal hemorrhages and infection. During an emergency seven-hour follow-up operation to repair a ruptured artery, he was given 55 pints of blood. He survived that and further surgery, but another hemorrhage and subsequent additional infections weakened him. He took a turn for the worse on Friday, June 16, and died the next afternoon of a generalized blood infection further complicated by pneumonia. This needless tragedy was the talk of Hollywood.

Excerpted from The HOLLYWOOD BOOK OF DEATH by James Robert Parish. Copyright © 2002 by James Robert Parish. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




1 Accidental Deaths          

2 Alcohol and Drugs          

3 In Obscurity          

4 Murders          

5 Natural Causes          

6 Puzzling Deaths          

7 Suicides          

Appendix A Necrology of Notable Hollywood Actors and Directors          

Appendix B Where Notable Hollywood Actors and Directors Are Buried in the
United States          


About the Author          

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The Hollywood Book of Death : The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Hollywood Book of Death is a very compelling book¿covering not only the high profile celebrity deaths (River Phoenix, Phil Hartman), but also lesser-known and forgotten stars. Murders, as well as puzzling and accidental deaths, suicides, drug- and alcohol-related, and many notable deaths from natural causes. The appendices are also helpful, providing a very comprehensive necrology of show biz personalities and where they are buried. But it¿s more than lists. I found reading the individual stories to be very absorbing. I bought the book for my interest in only one or two of the people covered, but found myself drawn in to reading more and more of the interesting and often bizarre tales of Hollywood deaths. Some will be familiar to you, but the author has uncovered even more details of those well publicized cases than you probably knew before. Highly recommended.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
Very interesting. Over 400 pages of short biographies of movie stars - both well known and obscure. Lots of pictures are included. If you are a movie buff, you will enjoy this. It did get a bit tedious in places but that is common with all books in this genre. The good thing is that each star's history is only a few pages so you can pick up and read here and there and not have to read from beginning to end inn a few sitting. Overall, well edited but a few pictures were out of place and were with the wrong biography. .
moosenoose on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is a good book that you can nip in and out of depending on which Hollywood star you are interested in. Would make a great addition to any collection of a Hollywood fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth the read. If you like short biographies this is the book for you. It focuses more on their life than their death. Totally enjoyed it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
James Robert Parish has taken scores of lives of the famous and near-famous and condensed them into a very readable and enjoyable collection, one which often surprises, as well as informs. This will prove to be a great reference book, as well as a fascinating read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
James Robert Parish's new book is a treasure trove of information on the passing of some 125 entertainment personalities. Each entry is well researched and entertainingly written. It is valuable for both movie fans and researchers. The necrology of 6,000 names is helpful to genealogists as well as film buffs. A definite plus for the library of any movie book collector or public libaries in general.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a unique, fascinating and incredibly useful grouping of information about the deaths (and lives) of Holywood stars over the years. Now, as a reader or a researcher, you can get in one book source where stars are buried, when they died and what happened in a lot of the more spectacular or odd endings fo some of these stars. This is one of the best pop culture reference books in recent years, but it is more than that. It is entertaining as well, as it illuminates Hollywood lives and culture over the years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is certainly another great follow-up to Parish's previous books on the subject. A book by James Robert Parish is always a winner!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author is a huge fan of the word "ironically", using it 20+ times, yet sadly I don't believe it was used correctly at any point. Ironically does not mean coincidentally. Ironically does not mean tragically. This was not the only problem with what could have been a very interesting read, just the most irritating.
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JennyG More than 1 year ago
I expected way more from this book. Yes, there are interesting stories, but then you have all these stories about celebrities from so long ago, they have never even been heard of...I am nearly 58 yrs. old and I had no clue for some of them were. This book is way over-rated. I felt ripped-off.
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