On this day in 1925, Dominick Dunne, a best-selling author, journalist and TV personality who often covered high-profile murder cases, is born in Hartford, Connecticut.
Dunne, whose father was a heart surgeon, was the second of six children. He served in the Army during World War II, and received a Bronze Star for rescuing an injured solider at the Battle of the Bulge. After his military service, Dunne attended Williams College, graduating in 1949. He went on to become a TV and film producer, and made famous friends in Hollywood (as well as some enemies—Frank Sinatra once paid a waiter to punch Dunne in the face). However, in the late 1970s, plagued by problems with drinking and drugs, as well as a stalled career, he left Los Angeles and spent six months in a cabin in rural Oregon. There he got sober and took up writing. His 1982 debut novel, “The Winners,” about Hollywood, was poorly reviewed, but in 1985, Dunne, who had relocated to New York City, had a best-seller with “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” about a showgirl who marries into a wealthy family and later kills her husband. Other successful novels about crime and high society (often based on real-life stories) followed, including 1990’s “An Inconvenient Woman” and 1993’s “A Season in Purgatory.”
Dunne’s fame increased when he reported on the 1995 O.J. Simpson double-homicide trial for Vanity Fair magazine, and frequently provided television commentary about the case. When the former football star was acquitted, Dunne was stunned. In 1997, he published “Another City, Not My Own,” a novel based on his experiences covering the Simpson trial.
As a result of a tragedy in his own life, Dunne was known for often siding with crime victims and their families in the cases he covered: In 1982, his 22-year-old daughter, Dominique, an actress, was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served less than three years in prison.
In addition to the Simpson case, Dunne wrote about other sensational trials for Vanity Fair, including those of Claus von Bulow, Erik and Lyle Menendez, William Kennedy Smith, Phil Spector and Michael Skakel. According to The Los Angeles Times, “Dunne—with his silver hair, tortoiseshell glasses and Turnbull & Asser finery—became a celebrity in his own right, sympathizing with crime victims, skewering the perpetrators and riding in limousines to his front-row seat at their trials.”
Besides his work as a novelist and journalist, Dunne hosted “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice” on Court TV (now TruTV) from 2002 to 2009. In 2008, while battling bladder cancer, Dunne traveled to Las Vegas to cover his final court event: the kidnapping and robbery trial of O.J. Simpson, who was convicted that October and later sentenced to 33 years behind bars.
On August 26, 2009, Dunne died of cancer at age 83 at his Manhattan home. He was preceded in death by his brother John Gregory Dunne (1932-2003), a writer who, with his wife Joan Didion, penned such screenplays as “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971), “A Star is Born” (1976) and “True Confessions” (1981). Dominick Dunne was survived by his two sons, Alexander and Griffin, an actor and director.