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No. 2: Dominic Dunne, scandal monger par ecxellencec

August 27, 2009
Dominick Dunne at work -- or at a party, which was much the same thing

Dominick Dunne at work -- or at a party, which was much the same thing

While everyone was talking about Ted Kennedy yesterday, Dominick Dunne, chronicler of celebrity misbehavior, passed on to his own reward. I don’t know whether to praise Dunne for the work he did covering the O.J. trail and other seamy, irresistible scandals, or to extol his remarkable life as an example aging Boomers might emulate to their profit.

Really, who had heard of Dominick Dunne, who died at age 83, until he turned himself into a writer? That was in the 1980s, when he already looked old — at least in my then-callow and unlined eyes. It’s not like he had been hiding. For decades, Dunne was a successful TV and movie producer.

Eventually, addiction problems wore out his welcome in La-La Land, and in his mid-50s Dunne retreated to Oregon, broke, where he straightened himself out and wrote his first book, the novel The Winners, published in 1982.

Dunne was born in Hartford, Conn., member of a high-achieving family: brother John Gregory Dunne, novelist; sister-in-law Joan Didion, novelist and essayist; son Griffin Dunne, actor and producer.

But it took personal tragedy to turn Dunne into the celebrity-and-crime writer who became famous. His daughter Dominique, a 22-year-old actress who had co-starred in Poltergeist, was stalked and murdered by her boyfriend. Deeply embittered, the grieving father attended the 1982 trial, and at the urging of Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair, kept a diary of the proceedings.

Thus began a partnership that lasted for more than two decades. Dunne specialized in celebrity trials, writing for Vanity Fair on everything from O.J. to the Menendez Brothers, Claus von Bulow, Phil Spector, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith and innumerable others. He became a frequent talking head on television, with his on show, “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” on CourtTV.

In addition to nonfiction books about celebrity malfeasance, Dunne also wrote several novels, including An Inconvenient Woman, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and People Like Us. While his style could sometimes be overheated (a characteristic of Vanity Fair celebrity writing), he also brought an element of investigative reporting to his journalism, and an insider’s knowledge of his metier.

Apart from whatever literary or cultural legacy Dunne leaves, however, his life is a stupendous testimony, F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, to America as the land of second acts. Once he found his niche, Dunne worked with an astonishing energy and intensity, and made the most of it right up until the end.

In 2008, at the age of 82, he traveled against the advice of his family and doctors to Las Vegas for the trial of O.J. Simpson kidnapping and armed robbery charges.

After learning last year he had bladder cancer, Dunne continued traveling, socializing and working, according to the Guardian. Though he finally discontinued his Vanity Fair column, it was to concentrate on a novel, Too Much Money, which is coming out in December. He made appearances to promote the documentary film on his life, After the Party. He began to write his memoirs, and made posts on his website until almost to the day he died.

Talk about seizing the bleeping day. Boomers take note. It’s never to late to find a passion, and by dint of hard work redeem past failures, disappointments and adversities. Just look at Dominick Dunne.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2009 2:09 pm

    Sorry to see him go. Whenever I feel I’ve been working too hard, toting around too many books, I buy Vanity Fair and inevitably there was a juicy article by Dunne. Strange karma he had that it took losing his daughter to find his purpose. thanks for the info, stuff I didn’t know about him.

  2. rachel permalink
    August 27, 2009 2:14 pm

    Not only boomers take note, all take note! This kind of thing gives me hope that I still have time to figure it out and really do what I want to do with my life.

    Very interesting stuff, thanks. And I also find that picture of Dunne very intriguing.

  3. Candice permalink
    August 27, 2009 5:04 pm

    I think most people cling “to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast.” If you know where that comes from, you are good.

    I was sad to hear about Dunne.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      August 27, 2009 8:34 pm

      Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1733. I know, this is like the teacher answering the question, but still: Do I win something? A gold star? Ah! I know — a hot dog.

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