Hemingway’s Death Shocks Friends


Hers was a star-crossed life that never fully regained the luster of its promising beginning.

Margaux Hemingway had the cool blond good looks and the classic American pedigree that propelled her at age 20 to supermodel status. Her portfolio brimmed with a $1-million perfume promotion contract and cover photos on national magazines. The doors would swing wide for her at New York’s ultimate nightspot, Studio 54, where she hobnobbed with the likes of Liza Minnelli and the designer Halston.

On Tuesday, neither the Los Angeles County coroner’s office nor her friends and entertainment associates could explain how or why the 41-year-old actress-model died--her body found in her Santa Monica apartment after a worried friend checked on her Monday.



A Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman said it was still too early to determine the cause of death. An autopsy showed no signs of trauma or foul play. Toxicological results may not be known for days.

Her friends, agent and entertainment associates remembered not the iconic supermodel of the 1970s or the 1980s victim of fame, but a woman who they said had beaten addictions to alcohol and food binges and had experienced a “physical and spiritual renewal.”

Her agent and others described Hemingway’s devotion to running, weight training, health foods, even a newfound interest in her “grandpapa’s” writings--the works of legendary author Ernest Hemingway. They wondered if her death could be connected to epilepsy, a disease that they said she had combated for many years with medication.

“She felt the medication was something of a hindrance or a crutch and she felt she wanted to live independently from that,” said Graham Kaye, Hemingway’s agent for the past year. “She said sometimes that she was going to go off the medication. And I said I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

Kaye and others said Hemingway had been on a quest for her own identity. She had visited an Indian reservation, sat in Native American sweat lodges, tried herbal remedies, and worked hard to improve herself.

While filming a movie late last year, she seemed to live on a diet of fish and sunflower seeds, associates said.

On Saturday, just two days before her body was discovered, she was seen by a neighbor shopping for produce at a farmers market in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica.

Friends said that despite her love for her grandfather, she had kept her distance from his literature in the past because of the dark specter of his suicide, which occurred 35 years ago Tuesday in Ketchum, Idaho. But she had recently begun to read his novels and to write a little on her own.

“I think maybe she had finally healed that part of her life, and maybe it was the first time she felt safe,” Kaye said. “She could pick up those books and not feel hurt about it. . . . It was finding her roots.”

Her friend Judy Stabile, a Venice artist, said that she had dinner with Hemingway last week and that she was in fine spirits.

“She knew she had the ability to come back and that is what she was working on,” Stabile said.


The following night, last Thursday, Hemingway looked radiant, Stabile said, dressed entirely in white, when she joined a friend to sing onstage at a West Hollywood restaurant. Stabile became concerned Monday when she could not reach her friend or even her telephone answering machine. It was an employee of Stabile’s who made his way into the apartment through a balcony window and found her body.

“With a history like she had, your ears were always perked for any sign that there was trouble. Before that, I never felt there was anything to be alarmed about,” Stabile said.

Hemingway was continuing to work and plan new projects until her death.

This spring, she completed several months of work as the host of a 13-episode television series on nature and the environment. “Wild Guide,” which is scheduled to air this fall on “Animal Planet,” a new network being launched by the Discovery Channel. In the programs, Hemingway swims with manatees and dolphins and milks a poisonous snake.

In another start-up venture, Hemingway was negotiating with a division of the Home Shopping Network to market a signature brand of perfume, Kaye said. It was to be called “Margaux Hemingway’s Rainforest Elixir.” There also was talk of a line of clothing and jewelry, but nothing had been finalized.

After gaining weight, she lost 75 pounds in the late 1980s. Although a nude photo spread in Playboy magazine in 1990 jump-started her flagging career, she never made the high-profile films that once seemed her destiny.

Independent casting director Gerald Wolff had worked with Hemingway on a series of films, including 1995’s “Vicious Kiss,” the just-completed “Dangerous Cargo” and the yet-to-be-released “Backroads.” She had worked consistently since August, he said, and was “a lot better actress than she was given credit for.”

“Making the transition from modeling to acting is always difficult,” said Wolff, a Hemingway friend for 17 years. “And the Hemingway legacy seemed to loom large. The weight of the Hemingway name and the image that had to be projected caused her a lot of grief and created tremendous pressure to succeed. She talked about her grandfather, but always reluctantly.”

Another relative also loomed large in her life--her younger sister Mariel, who had in some ways overshadowed her since the two made their film debut together in “Lipstick.” Although the 1976 film was panned, Mariel got considerably better notices than her sister.

Eric Louzil, the producer-director of “Dangerous Cargo,” said her younger sister’s success was difficult for Margaux. “She was very conscious of the competition aspect--and the fact that her opportunities were more limited than Mariel’s,” Louzil said.

Through her agent, Mariel Hemingway declined to comment, but friends said the sisters had reconciled this year. Margaux’s lawyer said her parents preferred to keep a low profile and are not likely to speak until the autopsy results are announced.

Louzil said filming in December on “Dangerous Cargo” was complicated because Hemingway sometimes grew faint on the set and asked if she could nap between takes. At night, she suffered from insomnia, Louzil said.


The work seldom paid off with positive recognition. In 1992, Daily Variety called “Love Is Like That” “enough to give love a bad name.” After “Frame-Up II: the Cover-Up” was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the trade newspaper said the movie was headed “straight to the video store.”

Nothing had seemed likely to dim Margaux Hemingway’s star two decades earlier when, barely out of her teens, she came roaring out of her home state of Idaho into New York City, as one writer put it, like “the American Dream incarnate, a prairie Valkyrie.”

But Hemingway said later that she never felt grounded. “For me, being a celebrity was like being in the eye of a hurricane,” she told one interviewer. “Really, the lack of love I think is basically the core issue here,” she said as recently as June 11 on the NBC talk show “Leeza.” “It stems from a poor relationship with my mother.”

Her alcoholism finally bottomed out in late 1987, at age 32, when she began binge drinking after a skiing accident, drinking two bottles of wine a day. A traumatic seizure followed, prompting her to enter the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.

Financial problems followed, as well. In 1991, she filed for bankruptcy in Los Angeles, listing debts of $815,910 and assets of $6,765. Both the state and federal government slapped her with massive tax liens.

But friends said Hemingway had climbed out of that hole and had remained sober for years, continuing her search for a healthier life. “She was a compassionate, heartfelt person,” Stabile said. “We are all shocked that this happened.”

Times staff writers Peter Hong, Ed Boyer and Frank B. Williams contributed to this story.