Sex Pistols member Sid Vicious was only 20 when he met Nancy Spungen in 1977. British punk god and veteran American groupie bonded instantly over their mutual passion for extreme drug use. Less than two years later, both were dead.
The story goes that the couple holed up in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel after the Pistols broke up to binge on smack while planning Sid’s solo career. On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found in the couple’s bathroom, dead from a knife wound in her abdomen. Ten days later Sid slit his own wrist. He survived, but only to be charged with Nancy’s murder (the knife was traced back to him) before overdosing on February 2, 1979, at the home of his new girlfriend.
Speculation still swirls about both deaths. Some say that Sid’s overprotective mom injected him with a lethal dose of heroin to spare him from prison. Others maintain that it was drug dealers that stabbed Nancy. In his book Vicious: Too Fast to Live, Alan Parker argues that both were murdered by Rockets Redglare, an East Village actor and alleged drug dealer. Tragic? Yes. Totally sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? Yeah, baby.
An heiress living her life as a student in the post-hippie stomping grounds of San Francisco, Patty Hearst seemed to be the picture of privilege. But when members of the Symbionese Liberation Army kicked in her door, mauled her boyfriend, and carried her away for ransom in February of 1974, the 19-year-old’s life was changed forever.
The radical SLA guerillas demanded that their captive’s father, son of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, feed the Bay Area poor–and he complied. But his daughter wasn’t released, and a stream of SLA-distributed audiotapes of her pleas for help began to take on a tone of indictment–she started to chastise her parents for not rescuing her, and sometimes sounded like she was even siding with her captors’ political goals. Hearst’s final tape fully condemned her family, declared her allegiance to the terrorists, and pronounced her rebirth as an SLA member named “Tania.” Soon she was photographed robbing a bank while sporting a beret and assault rifle, kicking off of a string of cross-country holdups in which she played a key role.
When the police finally caught up with Hearst, and a jury sentenced her to 25 years in jail, the public still didn’t know if she’d been a victim of brainwashing or a willing participant in SLA mayhem. It didn’t matter to Jimmy Carter and John Waters, however. The president commuted her sentence, and the director cast her in some of his silliest films. These days the gun-toting “Tania” is a soccer mom in suburban Connecticut.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain charmed the world with his mopey outlook and striped t-shirts. It was a brief romance. Fans barely had time to memorize the lyrics on Nirvana’s third album before Cobain checked out, killing himself with a 20-gauge shotgun blast.
Conspiracy theories abounded. Was he moved to suicide by some bad heroin? Was he murdered? Skeptics pointed to facts such as the massive amount of heroin in Cobain’s system, which would have sapped him of the strength to pull a trigger. Handwriting experts also scrutinized the suicide note to see if Cobain really had written it.
Only the angels Cobain now sleeps with know the answer, and we have it on good authority that they’re Neil Sedaka fans. So while Cobain tunes his harp to “Laughter in the Rain,” we’re left with pondering the continuing spectacle of Eddie Vedder and the continuing decline of Courtney “Time for another box set” Love. (She’s said to have sold 25% of her interest in the back catalog for “an undisclosed sum”). Oh, what Nevermind hath wrought. — Charles Bottomley
Although he was best known for his soulful odes to racial harmony and sexual bliss, singer Marvin Gaye‘s personal life was anything but laid back. At age 44, Gaye publicly admitted he was long-time “drug addict and sex freak”, a Safe-for-Work version of one ex-wife’s accusations that Gaye was a porn fiend and chronic masturbator prone to violence and coke binges.
Gaye’s double life mirrored that of his father, Marvin Pence Gay Sr., a fundamentalist preacher in Washington, DC. Despite vowing to wipe out vice in all its guises, Gay Sr. was also a cross-dresser who whipped his children. Unsurprisingly, tension and arguments were common under his roof. Marvin and his father had fierce brawls, the singer later changing his last name to “Gaye” to distance himself.
In 1984, in a house filled with guns, booze, and blow, the Grammy-winning singer and his father had their final skirmish, this time over misplaced business papers. After Gaye knocked his father to the floor, 70-year-old Marvin Sr. got up, retrieved the pistol his son had given him for Christmas, and shot him twice at point blank range, killing him instantly. In a jailhouse interview, Gay Sr. was asked if he loved his son. He responded, “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”
America reeled when, in 1996, six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was discovered strangled and sexually assaulted in the wine cellar of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado.
The former Little Miss Merry Christmas’s painted Kewpie-doll face became a nightly news fixture, and America was gripped by a necromantic furor. Armchair detectives pondered clues such as the undigested pineapple found in her stomach and the unidentified male DNA found in her underwear. As the case ground on, everyone from the police to supermarket tabloids to Colorado’s governor began to suspect the parents’ involvement. Allegations of a cover-up raged; grand juries were convened. But no one was ever charged.
In 2006, just as public interest had waned, ex-schoolteacher John Karr confessed to Ramsey’s murder. Karr fit the profile–if the profile is looking like someone you’d never leave your six-year-old alone with. But no positive DNA match was made, and Karr was found to be living in Alabama at the time of the murder.
In July 2008, the Colorado D.A. officially cleared the girl’s parents of any wrongdoing in her death. “JonBenét” can now be filed away in the bulging Cold Case album of American scandals. — Charles Bottomley
By 1962, sex symbol Marilyn Monroe had racked up an impressive list of ex-lovers and enemies to go with her cinema successes: outfielder Joe DiMaggio, playwright Arthur Miller, singer Frank Sinatra, wiseguy Sam Giancana, President John Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Attorney General. And those were just the household names. So when Monroe’s body was found in her Brentwood, California home early on August 4th, an apparent victim of a drug overdose at 36, the media could be forgiven for cooking up few conspiracy theories.
While her cause of death was listed as “probable suicide,” forensics now shows her overdose was probably caused by a sedative enema – not a way most people prefer to go. Did one of her doctors give her a bad prescription? Or was the enema a murder weapon? Witnesses, ignored by the police, claim that RFK entered the home with some goons around the same time she was telling friends on the phone that she was going to reveal secrets about the Attorney General and his President brother. There were also reports of an ambulance coming and going from the house before the discovery of her corpse, also suggesting that her handlers had something to hide.
With nearly everyone involved now dead, it seems unlikely we’ll ever know the full story. But whether her “probable suicide” was an accident, Kennedy-sponsored murder or just what investigators claimed it to be, few who knew Monroe’s emotional issues and chemical addictions thought she would have lived much longer. As Miller later said, “It had to happen. I didn’t know when or how, but it was inevitable.”
Kanye West usually engages his mouth before his brain. Case in point: A recent negative review of his live show prompted a blog rant the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Courtney Love bought an iMac. But the “Stronger” rapper spoke truth to power when he publicly dissed George Bush during a 2005 benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims.
“I hate the way they portray us in the media,” he blurted to the camera, referring to the media at large. “You see a black family, it says, ‘They’re looting.’ You see a white family, it says, ‘They’re looking for food.’ … America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible.”
As addled co-presenter Mike Myers did his impression of Bambi in the headlights, West brought it home: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Cue dead air. — Charles Bottomley
Take a 13-year-old American girl, a randy (albeit brilliant) movie director decades her senior, and a nude private photo shoot in Hollywood’s hottest hottub (Jack Nicholson unknowingly donated his to the cause), and you’ve got the ingredients for a monster scandal — even without the champagne and Quaaludes.
After churning out some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown), Polish director Roman Polanski was charged with rape, sodomy, child molestation and giving drugs to a minor. The ensuing trial dragged on throughout 1977, and public opinion around the world was split as to his guilt, with the European media blaming victim Samantha Gailey (now Geimer) and American media gunning for pervy perp Polanski.
The 44-year-old director Polanski ultimately pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and was sentenced to 90 days in state prison for psychiatric evaluation. But as the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired revealed, the director found out the judge was plotting a much harsher punishment and he skedaddled to France, where he remains a fugitive.
In a brand new twist, Wanted and Desired uncovered possible prosecutorial misconduct that could overturn the 30-year-old case. Too bad for Polanski that the film wasn’t made earlier — he might have been able to pick up his 2002 Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in person.
Even in the unsettling world of rock star deaths, few were as shocking as the murder of Beatle John Lennon, shot outside his Manhattan apartment in 1980 by a fan who had asked for the singer’s autograph hours earlier.
Thanks to both the worldwide success of the Beatles and Lennon’s strident political activism (which almost got him extradited from his adopted country in the early ’70s), many presumed that his death was politically motivated, coming so soon after the release of his first album since 1975. But killer Mark David Chapman was driven only by psychological delusions and a hunger for fame. Despite protests from his lawyer, Chapman refused to plead insanity, and was found guilty of second-degree murder.
Lennon’s tragically shortened life has since been the subject of countless documentaries and books, and Chapman eventually got his own biopic, the flop Chapter 27, starring Jared Leto. Chapman, who was sentenced to 20 years to life, has been denied parole three times despite an “exemplary disciplinary record.” Because of the high profile of his crime, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be released from prison.
“The heart wants what it wants,” says Woody Allen, which is probably the only reason a middle-aged man could ever give for hooking up with his babymama’s adopted daughter. Mia Farrow thought everything was fine between her and her director boyfriend in 1992 when she accidentally stumbled upon a series of nude photographs of the 22-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, which Allen had accidentally left on his mantle. D’oh!
Despite Allen’s claims that there was nothing remotely incestuous about the relationship (He barely knew Soon-Yi was alive until her mom asked him to take her to a basketball game!), the media quickly leaped on the story, which broke during the filming of Husbands & Wives the same year. In the film, Allen is tempted to cheat on Farrow with a young college student. Perhaps the credits should have read, “Inspired by a true story.”
Since the public furor and a contentious child custody case ended, Allen has continued to knock out a movie a year without interruption, and has now been with Soon-Yi (who he married in 1997) for longer than he was originally with Farrow. Allen has credited their marital success to a “paternal feeling” on his part. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.