Author known for his stories of crimes among rich and famous
Dominick Dunne, a TV-film exec who experienced a late-in-life career change into a novelist and crime writer, died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.
His son Griffin released a statement that his father had been battling bladder cancer for some time. Dunne was part of a famous family that also included his brother, novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne; his brother’s wife, author Joan Didion; and his son, actor-producer-director Griffin.
His daughter, “Poltergeist” actress Dominique Dunne, was strangled by her boyfriend in 1982. Dunne covered the killer’s trial for Vanity Fair, enraged at the injustice of the crime. The article led to a lifelong fascination with the justice system as well as a career based on the potent combination of celebrities and crime.
As a writer for Vanity Fair, he covered trials including those of Claus von Bulow, William Kennedy Smith and the Menendez brothers. In September 2008, against the orders of his doctor and the wishes of his family, he flew to Las Vegas to attend the kidnap-robbery trial of O.J. Simpson, a postscript to his coverage of Simpson’s 1995 murder trial that spiked Dunne’s considerable fame.
Born in Hartford, Conn., he studied at Williams College and began working in early TV on programs such as “The Howdy Doody Show.” After moving to Los Angeles, he became VP at Twentieth Century Fox Television, working as exec producer of the 1950s series “Adventures in Paradise.”
With his wife Ellen “Lennie” Griffin (whom he divorced in 1965), he socialized with stars including Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow and Natalie Wood, throwing legendary dinner parties.
He moved into feature producing, with credits on influential 1970s films including Didion’s “Play It as It Lays,” “The Panic in Needle Park” and “The Boys in the Band.”
His Hollywood career came to an end after 1973’s “Ash Wednesday,” which he produced. The Elizabeth Taylor-Henry Fonda starrer tanked, and Dunne famously insulted the film’s writer, Jean-Claude Tramont, whose fiancee was influential agent Sue Mengers. Moving to Oregon to recover from his use of drugs and alcohol, Dunne began writing for the first time at age 50. His first book was “The Winners.”
His next novel, “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” became a huge success, selling more than 2 million copies. That book and his novels “People Like Us,” “An Inconvenient Woman” and “A Season in Purgatory” were adapted as TV movies.
In 1995 he wrote and exec produced the TV movie “Dominick Dunne’s 919 Fifth Avenue.” On his Court TV series “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” which began its run in 2003, he discussed justice and celebrities.
In the past year, Dunne had traveled to Germany and the Dominican Republic for experimental stem cell treatments to fight his cancer. At one point, he wrote that he and Farrah Fawcett were in the same cancer clinic in Bavaria but did not see each other.
He discontinued his column at Vanity Fair to concentrate on finishing another novel, “Too Much Money,” due in December. He also made a number of appearances to promote the 2008 Australian documentary about his life, “After the Party.”
He is survived by sons Griffin and Alexander and a granddaughter.