Son of acting legend was guilty of killing his half-sister’s lover
Christian Brando, the troubled son of legendary actor Marlon Brando, who made headlines in 1990 when he was arrested in the shooting death of his half-sister’s boyfriend, died early Saturday. He was 49.
Brando died from complications of pneumonia at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, said David J. Seeley, an attorney for Marlon Brando’s estate.
The legal proceedings against Brando in the killing of Dag Drollet, 26, caused a firestorm of media attention. His father used his estate near Coldwater Canyon to post the $2-million bond for his son and later offered rambling and emotional testimony pleading for leniency for the oldest of his nine children.
Christian Brando, then 32, eventually pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Drollet, Cheyenne Brando’s lover and the father of her unborn child. Brando was sentenced to 10 years in prison but ended up serving nearly five years at the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo. He also was placed on three years’ probation.
Years later, Brando would be called to court in another high-profile legal case, the civil trial of actor Robert Blake in the slaying of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.
Christian Brando was born May 11, 1958, in Los Angeles. His mother was Marlon Brando’s first wife, Calcutta-born actress Anna Kashfi. Christian was still a toddler when the couple separated and divorced. A protracted custody battle ensued.
Kashfi was initially awarded custody of her son, but that order was removed five years later when a judge declared that her “reliance on drugs and alcohol” contributed to an uncontrollable temper. The court ordered that Christian, then 6, live with the actor’s older sister. By 1972, Marlon Brando -- who had married twice more and had three more children -- was granted custody of Christian, who was raised by nannies and sent to boarding school in Ojai.
While the actor was out of the country filming “Last Tango in Paris,” Kashfi allegedly kidnapped Christian and took him to Baja California. The boy was later found living in a tent and ill with bronchitis.
Kashfi continued to press for custody but gave up her struggle in 1974 when her ex-husband pledged that she would get reasonable visitation rights with her son.
Christian dropped out of school in 11th grade and began drinking and using LSD. He tried a variety of jobs, including welder and tree trimmer, and lived for a time in Alaska, piloting a barge for a fish processor during the summers. He tried his hand at acting but mostly lived for years with his father in Brando’s hilltop estate.
It was there that on May 16, 1990, Christian Brando confronted Drollet after Cheyenne confided that he had been beating her.
“I did not go into that room to kill Dag Drollet,” Christian Brando told The Times in 1991. “I just wanted to scare him.”
Brando said that as he turned to leave, his arm still outstretched, Drollet tried to grab the gun and it went off.
“I just sat there and watched the life go out of this guy,” Brando said.
In the interview with The Times, Brando said that later revelations about Cheyenne’s mental health had made him question whether she was ever beaten by Drollet.
“I feel like a complete chump for believing her,” he said.
In pleading for a reduced sentence for his son, the elder Brando took the stand in the Santa Monica courthouse and said, “I think that perhaps I failed as a father.
“I’m certain that there were things that I could have done differently, had I known better at the time,” the elder Brando said, at times choking back tears. “But I didn’t.”
While in prison, Christian Brando completed his high school equivalency degree and worked in a vocational education machine shop.
In 1995, Cheyenne hanged herself at her mother’s home outside Papeete, the French Polynesian capital on the island of Tahiti. She was 25. Cheyenne was the daughter of Brando and Tarita Teriipaia, who were married after appearing together in the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Cheyenne’s son, Tuki, was being raised on Tahiti by Drollet’s parents.
In 2005, Christian Brando was called to testify in Blake’s civil trial. Brando, who was briefly romantically involved with Bakley, invoked the 5th Amendment and refused to answer questions about his relationship with her. He was fined $1,000 for contempt of court.
When Bakley gave birth to a girl in June 2000, she had named her Christian Shannon Brando and led Brando to believe that he was the father. A paternity test later established that Blake was the father and the baby’s name was changed to Rose Sophia Lenore Blake.
Los Angeles police investigated and cleared Brando of any involvement in the May 4, 2001, killing of Bakley outside a Studio City restaurant.
But Brando’s troubles with the law continued.
In 2005, he was charged with two counts of spousal abuse against his then-wife Deborah Brando. He pleaded no contest and was placed on three years’ probation. He also was ordered to undergo drug and alcohol rehabilitation, as well as a spousal abuse prevention program.
He and his ex-wife filed civil suits against each other that were settled quietly in 2007.
Marlon Brando died at 80 on July 1, 2004.
In addition to his mother, Christian Brando’s survivors include six half-brothers and half-sisters.