Dominick Dunne

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Dominick Dunne
Dominick Dunne.jpg
Dunne in 1999
Dominick John Dunne

(1925-10-29)October 29, 1925
DiedAugust 26, 2009(2009-08-26) (aged 83)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materWilliams College
(m. 1954; div. 1965)
Children5, including Griffin and Dominique Dunne
RelativesJohn Gregory Dunne (brother)
Joan Didion (sister-in-law)
Hannah Dunne (granddaughter)

Dominick John Dunne[1] (October 29, 1925 – August 26, 2009)[2] was an American writer, investigative journalist, and producer. He began his career in film and television as a producer of the pioneering gay film The Boys in the Band (1970) and as the producer of the award-winning drug film The Panic in Needle Park (1971). He turned to writing in the early 1970s. After the 1982 murder of his daughter Dominique, an actress, he began to write about the interaction of wealth and high society with the judicial system. Dunne was a frequent contributor to Vanity Fair, and, beginning in the 1980s, often appeared on television discussing crime.

Early life[edit]

Dunne was born in 1925 in Hartford, Connecticut, the second of six children of Richard Edwin Dunne, a hospital chief of staff and a heart surgeon, and Dorothy Frances (née Burns).[3][4] His maternal grandfather, Dominick Francis Burns (1857–1940), was a successful grocer, who, in 1919, co-founded the Park Street Trust Company, a neighborhood savings bank.[5] Although his Irish Catholic family was affluent, Dunne recalled feeling like an outsider in the predominantly WASP West Hartford suburb where he grew up.[3]

As a boy, Dunne was known as Nicky. He attended the Kingswood School and the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut,[6] but was drafted into the Army during his senior year of high school. Dunne served in World War II and received the Bronze Star for heroism during the Battle of Metz. After the war, he attended Williams College, from which he graduated in 1949.

Dunne was the older brother of writer John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003), a screenwriter and a critic who married the writer Joan Didion. The brothers wrote a column for The Saturday Evening Post and they also collaborated on the production of The Panic in Needle Park. Didion and John Gregory Dunne wrote the screenplay, while Dominick Dunne produced the film (which featured Al Pacino in his first leading role).


After graduating from Williams College, Dunne moved to New York City, where he became a stage manager for television. Later, Humphrey Bogart brought him to Hollywood to work on the television version of The Petrified Forest. Dunne worked on Playhouse 90 and became vice president of Four Star Television. He frequently socialized with members of Hollywood's elite, including Elizabeth Montgomery and Elizabeth Taylor, but in 1979, beset with addictions, he left Hollywood and moved to rural Oregon. There, he said, he overcame his personal demons and wrote his first book, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.

In November 1982, his daughter, Dominique Dunne, best known for her part in the film Poltergeist, was murdered by strangulation. Dominick Dunne attended the trial of John Thomas Sweeney, Dominique's ex-boyfriend. Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six and a half years in prison, but he only served two and a half years of his sentence. Dunne's article "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer" ran in the March 1984 issue of Vanity Fair.[7]

Dunne started writing regularly for Vanity Fair. He based several bestselling novels on real events, including the murders of Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress, Vicki Morgan (An Inconvenient Woman), and banking heir William Woodward, Jr., who was shot by his wife, Ann Woodward (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles). He eventually hosted the TV series Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice on Court TV (later truTV), in which he discussed the justice and injustice of the intersection of celebrity and the judicial system. He covered the famous trials of O. J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, and the Menéndez brothers. The Library of America selected Dunne's account of the Menéndez trial, Nightmare on Elm Drive, for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American true crime writing, published in 2008.

In 2005, former California Congressman Gary Condit won an undisclosed financial settlement and an apology from Dunne,[8] who had earlier implicated him in the disappearance of Condit's intern Chandra Levy in Washington, D.C. Levy was from Condit's Congressional district, and Condit had previously admitted to an extramarital affair with her. As part of the settlement, Dunne issued a brief statement that it was not his intention “to imply that Mr. Condit was complicit in Levy’s disappearance." In November 2006, Condit again sued Dunne for comments Dunne made about him on Larry King Live on CNN.[9] This lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Throughout his life, Dunne frequently socialized with, wrote about, and was photographed with celebrities. Sean Elder's review of Dunne's memoir, The Way We Lived Then, recounted how Dunne appeared at a wedding reception for Dennis Hopper, writing, "But in the midst of it all, there was one man who was getting what ceramic artist Ron Nagle would call 'the full cheese,' one guy everyone gravitated toward and paid obeisance to."[10] That man was Dunne, who mixed easily with artists, actors, and writers present at the function. Dunne was quoted as saying that Hopper wished he "had a picture of myself with Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer."[10]

In 2008, at age 82, Dunne traveled from New York to Las Vegas to cover O. J. Simpson's trial on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery for Vanity Fair. He said it would be his last such assignment. Having reported on Simpson's first trial and having thought the judicial system failed the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman—as well as his own family after his daughter's murder—he was personally vested in Simpson's fate.

Dunne's adventures in Hollywood were described in the documentary film Dominick Dunne: After the Party (2008), directed by Kirsty de Garis and Timothy Jolley. The film documents his hardships and successes in the entertainment industry. In the film, Dunne reflects on his past as a World War II veteran, falling in love and raising a family, his climb and fall as a Hollywood producer, and his comeback as a writer. In 2002, director Barry Avrich released an unauthorized documentary about Dunne, Guilty Pleasure. It provides a more candid look at Dunne's life and includes those who took issue with his journalistic style. It was released globally and featured Johnnie Cochran, Griffin Dunne, and producer David Brown.

Final years and tribute[edit]

In September 2008, Dunne disclosed that he was being treated for bladder cancer.[11] At the time of his death, he was working on Too Much Money.[12] On September 22, 2008, Dunne complained of intense pain, and was taken by ambulance to Valley Hospital.[13] He died on August 26, 2009, at his home in Manhattan[14] and was buried at Cove Cemetery, in the shadow of Gillette Castle in Hadlyme, Connecticut.

On October 29, 2009 (what would have been Dunne's 84th birthday), many of his family and friends gathered at the Chateau Marmont to celebrate his life.[15] Vanity Fair paid tribute to Dunne and his extensive contributions to the magazine in its November 2009 issue.[16]


Dunne was married to Ellen Beatriz Griffin from 1954 to 1965.[17] He was the father of Alexander Dunne and the actors Griffin Dunne and Dominique Dunne, as well as two daughters who died in infancy.[7]

Dominique Dunne, most known for her role in the film Poltergeist, was strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, on November 4, 1982.[7] Dominick Dunne covered Sweeney's trial for Vanity Fair, and alongside the rest of his family, expressed his outrage when Sweeney was acquitted of second-degree murder in favor of voluntary manslaughter.[18]


  • The Winners - (March 17, 1982). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671249786
  • The Two Mrs. Grenvilles - (January 2, 1986). Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 9780517557136
  • Fatal Charms: And Other Tales of Today - (January 6, 1987). Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 9780517564523
  • People Like Us - (May 28, 1988). Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0517568798
  • An Inconvenient Woman - (May 19, 1990). Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780517577639
  • The Mansions of Limbo - (July 30, 1991). Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780517583852
  • A Season in Purgatory - (May 27, 1993). Bantam Press. ISBN 9780517583869
  • Another City, Not My Own - (November 9, 1997) Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780609601006
  • The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-known Name Dropper - (September 28, 1999). Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780609603888
  • Justice: Crimes, Trials, And Punishments - (July 26, 2001). Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780609608739
  • Too Much Money - (December 15, 2009). Ballantine Books. ISBN 9781615238781


Year Film Title Role Notes
1970 The Boys in the Band Executive Producer Film
1971 The Panic in Needle Park Producer Film
1972 Play It as It Lays Producer Film
1973 Ash Wednesday Producer Film
1997 Addicted to Love Matheson Film
1995-2001 Biography Self TV series
2002-2009 Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice Host TV series
2006 Bernard and Doris Board Member Film
2008 Dominick Dunne: After the Party Self Documentary
2020 Jay Sebring....Cutting to the Truth Self Documentary


  1. ^ Nemy, Enid (August 26, 2009). "Dominick Dunne, Chronicler of Crime, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
  2. ^ "Dominick Dunne: 1925–2009". Vanity Fair. August 26, 2009.
  3. ^ a b McNally, Owen (August 26, 2009). "Celebrity Author And Hartford Native Dominick Dunne Dies at Age 83". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on August 28, 2009. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
  4. ^ Sudyk, Bob (May 24, 1998). "Dunne's Trials from Hartford to Hollywood to Hadlyme with a Writer Who's Known the Peak of Fame and Despair's Deepest Trough". Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
  5. ^ Morin, Monte (January 2, 2004). "John Dunne dies; wrote "The Studio"". Star-News.
  6. ^ Arnold, Laurence (August 26, 2009). "Dominick Dunne, Chronicler of High Society Justice, Dies at 83". Bloomberg News. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Dunne, Dominick (April 8, 2008). "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer". Vanity Fair. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  8. ^ "National Briefing — California: Congressman Settles Lawsuit". The New York Times. March 16, 2005.
  9. ^ "Gary Condit suing Dominick Dunne again". United Press International. November 15, 2006. Archived from the original on October 8, 2019. Retrieved March 31, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Elder, Sean (October 13, 1999). "A Dunne deal". Salon. Archived from the original on June 30, 2006. Retrieved March 31, 2007.
  11. ^ "Ailing Writer Says O.J. Trial To Be Last". Las Vegas Review-Journal. September 21, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
  12. ^ "Too Much Money".
  13. ^ "Crime Writer Rushed From O.J. Trial To Hospital". CNN. September 22, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2008.
  14. ^ O'Neill, Ann; Karas, Beth (August 26, 2009). "Society crime writer Dominick Dunne, dies at 83". CNN. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
  15. ^ Mikulan, Steven (October 30, 2009). "Dominick Dunne Remembered at the Chateau Marmont". TheWrap. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  16. ^ Hogan, Michael (November 2009). "Our Man Dominick". Vanity Fair. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  17. ^ Woo, Elaine (September 16, 2014). "Dominick Dunne dies at 83; author and former Hollywood producer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  18. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (June 19, 2002). "Taking His Panache to TV, Stalking Injustice, His Way". The New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2019.

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