Legacy: Dominick Dunne, an American original

They don’t dominick-dunne-author_lmake lives like Dominick Dunne’s anymore. A movie producer and TV exec who then forged a late career as a best-selling author and journalist (and telegenic raconteur), Dunne, who died today in New York at age 83, was an American original. In his best work, he cast a cool, stylishly bespectacled eye on the national fascination with celebrity and high society — as well as the effect that crime and tragedy could wreak on that rarefied world.

But Dunne didn’t just write about the nexus of celebrity and crime, as he did in his witty Vanity Fair reports on the O.J. Simpson trial or Princess Diana’s death. He also lived it: While Dunne was composing his 1985 novel The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (inspired by a real society murder case from the 1950s), his 22-year-old daughter, Poltergeist actress Dominique Dunne, was murdered by her former boyfriend. (The culprit, John Sweeney, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served less than four years of a six-year sentence.)

Dunne traced his interest in celebrity to a childhood trip to L.A. with his aunt, but he spent much of his life hobnobbing with A-listers. His brother, John Gregory Dunne, became a noted novelist (and husband of the writer Joan Didion). He earned a Bronze Star for heroism in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge. As a student at Williams College, he appeared in plays with future Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. He moved in Hollywood circles as a director, TV executive, and producer of movies like 1970’s The Boys in the Band. But after struggling in Hollywood, he found his true calling rather late in life as a writer: He published his first book, The Winners, in 1979.

Like Truman Capote, Dunne the writer/journalist was often as famous as his subjects. And like Capote, he could be quick with a cutting remark, as when he referred to record producer Phil Spector as “a drama queen, albeit straight.” But in all his books and articles, Dunne explored the obsession with fame in late-20th-century American culture. And with all his inside-the-velvet-rope connectedness, he managed to embody it as well.

Peter Kramer/AP Images

Comments (30 total) Add your comment
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  • Preity

    Dominick Dunne was one of a kind, and he will be missed.

  • Ursula

    Dominick seemed like a classy, kind, intelligent, loyal and honorable man. Although I never met him, his writing and how he conveyed himself was genuine – not pompous.

    One of my favorite things to do was read his column in Vanity Fair magazine. It was like being there, first hand – smiles and all.

    We’ll miss you, Dominick.

    Los Angeles

    • Maureen

      You are so right Ursala- he was the reason that I started to read Vanity Fair on a regular basis and would look forward to his articles each month and would always read them first. R.I.P Dominick I will miss your writing. :(

      • Maureen

        Sorry I misspelled your name Ursula

    • Reinet

      Indeed, he will be sorely missed. Will we have to buy Vanity Fair without him in it?

  • a devoted reader

    His writing always fascinated me. He was an amazing writer; he was an excellent story-teller. I could never put his works down.

  • viki

    Dominick Dunne was my favorite contemporary author. Whenever he had a new book out, I would race to the bookstore, drive home feeling that I had a rare treasure with me,and then cancel the next two days of my life. He will be sorely missed by many.

  • Richard Morgan

    Mr Dunne understood the downside of American culture and reported it in a eruadite fashion. Very sorry to see him pass from the scene.

  • Jen

    Loved his show and his writing. That makes for 2 beloved american icons to pass, who will be the 3rd?

    • Omar

      Ellie Greenwich.

  • Bill Morgan

    Dominick Dunne was everything that Ted Kennedy was not. Mr Dunne was a war hero, patriotic and a hard worker. I will miss him.

    • Maggie

      Bill, there is no need to diss Sen. Kennedy in order to praise Mr. Dunne. While Sen. Kennedy was not a war hero, he and Mr. Dunne were similar in that they were both patriotic and hard workers. And both suffered family tragedies that shaped the course of their lives. They both will be missed.

      • Steve Barton


  • Pat

    I loved to read his books and magazine articles. He wrote in such a unique way. Loved his insights on the rich and famous. He will be greatly missed.

    • Carlo

      I got a date with Linda tomorrow or Mon.S&C: Hollow rock partcice, AB mat situps, and L-sit partciceCFE: Bike 10 30 sec (no hill, used hardest gear) approx. .17-.2 mile each. Later, bike home from work with a repeat 10x30s.

  • jz

    What a shame he had to go. Just loved this guy. Really an amazing man. Now he’ll be with his beloved daughter. RIP.

  • Anne

    Rest in peace, dear man, the suffering is over and heaven awaits with open arms.

  • astrochicks.com

    I loved Dominick Dunne and his Power and Intrigue shows. What a classy guy.

  • Jane Smith

    As much as his writing, I will miss his social graces. In this era of texting while conversing, his articles painted a picture of mannerly life that is sadly too rare.

    Condolences to his family.

  • Chip

    I have so worried over the absence of “Dominick Dunne’s Diary” in recent issues of Vanity Fair, and today my fears were confirmed. I will so miss his writing and his tales of the rare world he lived in. When he got a hot tip from someone at a cocktail party and wrote about it, it was like getting a great piece of gossip from a trusted friend. I loved him and I will miss him more than he could imagine.

  • George

    He was a liar and a lowlife muckraker who trashed innocent men for a living. He’s burning in hell as we speak.

    • SANDY

      IS THAT YOU OJ ?

      • Maggie


      • danielle

        It’s probably John Sweeny the piece of trash who killed his daughter.

  • aleksa

    He’d better get a cover story in Vanity Fair.

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