Book tracks the dear departed and how they got that way

February 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Hollywood necrologists take note. (No, not necrophiliacs.)

How the famous, near famous and infamous died has been both chronologically and alphabetically listed in a new reference book pTC titled "Final Curtain" from Citadel Press -- the same people who published "Final Exit," the best-selling how-to-commit-suicide manual, two years ago.

"There has never been a book like this one," the publishers claim on the outside of the softcover edition (for $16.95), which boasts the date and age at death of 4,000 movie, television and rock 'n' roll personalities -- everyone from silent screen comedian John Bunny (Bright's disease in 1915) to "Bewitched's" Dick York (emphysema and a degenerative spinal condition in 1992). Also included: where they're buried.

The public's morbid fascination with how the stars died is nothing new -- witness the cults surrounding Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John Belushi, Jim Morrison, Judy Garland, Sal Mineo.

Now, as publisher Alan Wilson sees it, "Final Curtain" can help those further their studies. The tome, he said, not only serves as a quick guide for necrologists but has the potential to become the basis for "bar bets" as well.

"It's not morbid. It'll answer who's alive, who's not alive . . . a resource book. You won't read it for pleasure," Mr. Wilson said.

A cursory flip through the pages and down the "cause of death" columns discloses some very cryptic explanations on how certain screen luminaries breathed their last -- and other such unceremonious earthly departures of the obscure Screen Actors Guild member.

Pneumonia following a lobotomy "to ease pain" felled '30s matinee idol and Oscar-winner Warner Baxter in 1951 at age 58; 87-year-old character actor Victor Kilian of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was "killed by burglars in his Hollywood apartment" in 1979; "died alone in his trailer of malnutrition" was the fate of 77-year-old Western star Ken Maynard in 1973.

What about Jean Seberg at age 40? Here's her entry: "Found dead wrapped in a blanket in her car" in 1979. That's what French coroners found for cause, anyway.

Murders, suicides, drug overdoses and death by drowning in one's own vomit (more than you'd imagine) are entered with equally dry notation.

There's no hint of the oft-told rumors how matinee idol John Garfield's heart was overtaxed before he went. Just "heart attack." Poor Jean Harlow, believed to have died of complications from a botched abortion, goes to her grave from "uremic poisoning after acute sunburn."

Not all is downbeat in "Final Curtain." Author Everett G. Jarvis pads out the volume with a chapter on the original names of stars, a roster of major Academy Award winners and another on star marriages -- even listing couples who have since divorced and others never legally linked in the first place.

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