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Tribute: Dominick Dunne

Posted on August 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Fallen Hollywood luminary, name-dropper, world-class party-goer, best-selling author, and force for justice Dominick Dunne died of cancer yesterday at age 83. He was the brother of screenwriter John Gregory Dunne (the subject of The Year of Magical Thinking by his widow, Joan Didion). He was the father of actor/writer/director Griffin Dunne and Alex Dunne. And he was the father of Dominique Dunne, who played the oldest daughter in Poltergeist. She was murdered in 1982 by an ex-boyfriend whose inadequate sentence caused Dunne to devote the rest of his life to pursuing justice as a writer and activist.

Dunne was the best-selling author of novels based on real-life incidents of society scandal that were often adapted for glossy made-for-television productions like An Inconvenient Woman and The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. And he wrote non-fiction accounts of real-life scandal for Vanity Fair.

None of it was as entertaining as his own story, which he told in the books Fatal Charms and Other Tales of Today and The Mansions of Limbo and in a documentary called Dominick Dunne: After the Party.

I heard him speak once and he was filled with bubbly and sometimes wicked anecdotes about the rich and famous. But he was also an enormously appealing presence, completely sincere in his essential decency. That comes through in a wonderful story he told for The Moth called “My Bunkmate Was In For Murder.” It is the tale of his arrest for possession of marijuana, which, since it was found on him at the airport coming back from another country made it a very serious offence. His rescue by from a most unexpected friend for a most unexpected reason makes it a perfect way to remember him.

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