Begelman’s suicide shocks, saddens friends

GOOD MORNING: I have seen some great performances while covering show business lo these many years — but none like the one my wife Selma and I saw last week during one of my several visits to the doctor during my siege with a virus. Another patient was readying to leave that same medical office. He was David Begelman. He looked his usual healthy, cheery self, smiling broadly, his posture ramrod erect, and dressed in his usual sartorial splendor. He was concerned for me and my highly unusual absence from the paper. Why was he at the doctor’s office? Just to have his blood pressure checked, I was told. A man doesn’t go to the doctor’s office to have his blood pressure checked if he is contemplating suicide. There was also no untoward sign of anything to come when we had dinner with David, wife Annabelle, and hosts Fred De Cordova and his wife Janet at Drai’s only a week earlier. It was not easy (almost impossible) to be a “host” with Begelman “a guest.” Invariably, he would have the check mysteriously missing, arrangements having always been made for the bill(s) to be sent to David. Or, when he was invited, he would say, “Have you seen ‘such-and-such-movie’?” And then he’d put together a small dinner group and a screening followed in the plush projection room at his art-filled Beverly Hills home. His brilliant conversation, humorous anecdotes, tales of his halcyon Hollywood days were all a facade. David Begelman was suffering. His depression was deepening. His debts were mounting. He was suffering the embarrassment of asking his friends — and they were his friends — for money. He was still suffering from the disease, gambling, which brought him his original embarrassment. Although he recovered briefly from the ignominy with important studio posts, he continued to be haunted by that past — and that disease, always believing he could “get even.” Although last Sunday he was a winner in a gin game, he must have finally admitted to himself he could not be a winner again in the business of show. All attempts to regain a viable banner had failed. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.

“I SAW IT COMING,” sadly admitted Victor Drai, one of those to whom Begelman left a “farewell note.” “It was like losing a father,” Drai said to me. David gave Drai his start in the business of producing movies and they remained close friends through their respective ups and downs — David’s loss of wife Gladyce, his joyful wedding to Annabelle, Victor’s various amours, and his happy marriage to Loryn (Locklin). Begelman, Annabelle and Gladyce’s daughter Beth, her boyfriend, and her children were out here from N.Y. and dined at Drai’s with the Begelmans. The family left for N.Y. Monday afternoon and David, who was very close to them, didn’t have the heart to say goodbye. He left several notes to close friends, offering an apology for his final act, explaining he couldn’t “take it (the financial morass) any more.” And with a plea to “take care of Annabelle.” Of course, David’s most tender and touching note was to Annabelle. Ironically, she had called me at home Monday to ask how I was feeling. She was driving with producer Bob Finkel to the Newhall location of “Have You Seen My Son?,” an ABC telefilm starring Lisa Hartman, with Paul Schneider directing. It is a co-production of Annabelle’s very successful Gross-Weston Prods. with Finkel’s banner. She returned home Monday night — to later get the fateful phone call of David’s death. When I spoke to her Tuesday afternoon, she was, of course, still in shock as she told me, “He was the love of my life.” The house was immediately filled with longtime friends including Suzanne Pleshette, Asher Dann, Freddie and Corinna Fields, Tina Sinatra, Bob Finkelstein, Deborah Raffin and Michael Viner, the latter two had chatted with David at Drai’s — and with Dominick Dunne, who got word his son Alexander Dunne, 38, was missing. And Dominick immediately left for the Nogales, Ariz., site where young Dunne had been visiting his mother. Nick had suffered the tragedy of daughter Dominique’s murder in 1982, friends here sadly recall … While David Begelman’s history will also recall the tragedies in his life, his many friends will remember him as loving, talented, generous and gallant.

“NET” PROFITS ARE SOARING, so director Irwin Winkler’s inked the screenwriters , John Brancato and Michael Ferris, to write “Plutonium,” a thriller set in Austria. It’s also for Columbia. Winkler just completed producing “The Juror” locations in N.Y. winding on sked with a coupla days in Mexico to double for Guatemala. Winkler takes “The Net” to San Sebastian and Deauville fests … Winkler’s son Charles is winding directing “Red Ribbon Blues” with the Second Generation Films’ other two partners, Chip Rosenbloom and Brad Wyman … John Y. Brown Jr., former Kentucky governor, and wife Phyllis George Brown separated amicably after 16 years of marriage. She returns to the Nashville Network for a second season of four interview spex with Susan Winston and Dan Funk producing.