Author and journalist Dominick Dunne, gadfly of the celebrity courtroom and diarist of celebrity excess, died Wednesday in Manhattan after a battle with bladder cancer, according to his son, actor-producer Griffin Dunne. He was 83.
During his decades-long career covering high-profile murders, profiling the famous and mingling with high society, Dunne became something of a journalistic-literary enigma, whose persona bristled with righteous indignation, while wielding the kind of lofty connections, aerial perspective and undiluted opinions that made him a combination Walter Winchell and Marcel Proust.
As fate would have it, Dunne's death fell on the same day as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's. Dunne had crossed paths with the Kennedy family several times during his career, and with dramatic repercussions. A onetime intimate of Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Dunne had revived interest in the 1975 Martha Moxley murder through his novel "A Season in Purgatory" and was instrumental in helping make the case against another Kennedy in-law, Michael Skakel, who was eventually convicted of the crime. Dunne also covered the William Kennedy Smith rape case in 1991 for Vanity Fair, the magazine with which he was associated for many years.
Dunne, brother of author John Gregory Dunne and brother-in-law of Joan Didion, was born in 1925 in Hartford, Conn., to a wealthy Irish Catholic family. He served in the Army during World War II, winning the Bronze Star for heroism in 1944 after carrying two wounded men to safety at the Battle of Merz, in Feisberg, Germany. He later wrote, "Winning a medal was the only thing I can ever remember doing that won any admiration from my father." He graduated from Williams College in 1949.
Dunne was a novelist ("The Two Mrs. Grenvilles"), a film producer ("Ash Wednesday"), a TV executive and amateur prosecutor - Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Skakel's cousin, told New York magazine in 1993 that Dunne was a "pathetic creature" and had persecuted Skakel for his own aggrandizement. For his part, Dunne's motivation in pursuing the Moxley murder stemmed in part from the fact that Martha Moxley was killed Oct. 30 - seven years to the date before his own daughter, the actress Dominique Dunne, would be killed by an ex-boyfriend on her porch in West Hollywood.
Dunne's account of the trial of the man accused of Dominique's murder was his first article for Vanity Fair, which he joined in 1984 as a contributing editor and where he was named special correspondent in 1993. His coverage of the trials of O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Skakel, Kennedy Smith, and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, were unorthodox and decidedly unobjective. In 2005, Gary Condit won an undisclosed amount of money from Dunne, who had to apologize, after having implicated Condit in the disappearance of intern Chandra Levy, with whom he had been having an affair. In November 2006, he was sued again by Condit for comments made on CNN, but that suit was tossed out.
Dunne profiled numerous personalities, among them Imelda Marcos, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elizabeth Taylor, Claus von Bülow, Adnan Khashoggi, and Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Among his credits as a producer were the TV series "Adventures in Paradise" and "The Boys in the Band," the pioneering drama about gay life. Two of his films, "The Panic in Needle Park" and "Play It As It Lays," were written or co-written by his brother John and Didion. But it is for his work covering the intersection of culture and crime that Dunne will likely be best remembered.
He is survived by his two sons, Griffin and Alexander. Their mother, Ellen, who was divorced from Dunne, died in 1997.