Dominick Dunne, perhaps the most famous chronicler of the celebrity crowd over the last quarter century, died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83 and had battled bladder cancer.
Dunne, an investigative journalist, was famous for his reports from the trials of the infamous – O.J. Simpson, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, the Menendez brothers, plus the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It wasn’t a celebrity trial unless Dunne was there scribbling in his notepad.
But Dunne was also a novelist, producing “The Winners” (1982), “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” (1985), “People Like Us” (1988), “An Inconvenient Woman” (1990), “A Season in Purgatory” (1993) and “Another City, Not My Own” (1997).
His memoir, “The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper,” was published in 1999. His work often touched on his favorite topics – high society, celebrities and their foibles. Known for his trademark wit, cynicism and commentary, Dunne was the proverbial fly on society’s wall.
For more than 25 years, Dunne’s voice was heard in Vanity Fair magazine. Over the years there was hardly a celebrity he didn’t profile in its pages, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Claus von Bulow and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Born into wealth himself in Hartford, Conn. – his father was a heart surgeon, his mother an heiress, his brother John Gregory Dunne (late husband of Joan Didion) would become a famous author – he graduated from Williams College and began his career in New York as the stage manager of “The Howdy Doody Show.”
In 1957 he moved to Hollywood and became the executive producer of the TV series “Adventures in Paradise.” Dunne later served as the president of Four Star, a TV company owned by David Niven, Dick Powell and Charles Boyer. He moved on to producing feature films, including “The Boys in the Band,” “Panic in Needle Park,” “Play It As It Lays” and “Ash Wednesday.”
But his first love surfaced early on – hobnobbing with the rich and the famous, an obsession that nearly brought him down. Accepting his addictions to alcohol and cocaine after losing his job and wife after years of partying, Dunne left Hollywood in 1979, fleeing to rural Oregon, where he sobered up. He wrote his first book there, “The Winners.”
He then returned to New York and continued writing, which he turned into a highly successful career. He didn’t return to Hollywood until 1995, to cover the O.J. Simpson trial.
Dunne’s fascination with criminal trials stemmed from the 1982 murder of his actress daughter, Dominique. He covered the trial of her murderer and subsequently wrote “Justice: A Father’s Account of the Trial of his Daughter’s Killer” for Vanity Fair. (Two sons survive, Alexander and actor/director Griffin Dunne.)
In later years he hosted the TV series “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice,” in which he discussed justice and injustice and their intersection with celebrities.