June Fairchild dies at 68; former actress lived on skid row
June Fairchild was a Manhattan Beach prom queen, a go-go dancer, an actress who appeared in more than a dozen films and, for a time, an addict and alcoholic who slept in a cardboard box on skid row in Los Angeles.
Fairchild, 68, died Tuesday at a Los Angeles convalescent home. The cause was liver cancer, her friend Dawna Sodders said.
She spent her last years living on Social Security disability payments in small rooms in downtown hotels.
“Don’t worry about me, dahling,” Fairchild would tell friends, imitating Mae West, one of her idols. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”
Fairchild made a memorable appearance as a druggie who snorted Ajax soap powder in Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” (1978). She also had parts in “Drive, He Said,” a 1971 basketball film directed by Jack Nicholson, and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974), with Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.
For several years, she lived with boyfriend Danny Hutton, a lead singer for the rock group Three Dog Night. She is said to have suggested the group’s name after reading that Australian aborigines gauged the coldness of a night by the number of dogs they had to curl up with to stay warm.
After her film career dissolved in a haze of drugs and booze, Fairchild danced at Los Angeles clubs. After a couple of unsuccessful tries at rehab, she wound up living on the streets, where she was robbed and raped.
In 2001, she was selling newspapers on the steps of a Los Angeles courthouse and scraping together enough money for occasional nights in a single-room occupancy hotel.
She was “an angel in a snake pit,” she told a Times reporter who discovered her Hollywood past.
On the day The Times ran a story about her, she was stopped in Van Nuys for carrying an open container of alcohol. A police officer who recognized her from her picture in the newspaper arrested her when it turned out that she had failed to complete her community service from a past drunk driving conviction. She received a 90-day sentence.
In 2002, she told The Times that the sentence had been what she needed to clean herself up. She signed a contract at Paramount Studios — not for a movie role, but for use of her likeness on bobble-head dolls of the Ajax Lady from “Up in Smoke.”
She was born June Edna Wilson on Sept. 3, 1946, and grew up in Manhattan Beach. Her father was a musician who wrote gospel songs.
After graduating from Aviation High School, she landed a job as a member of the Gazzarri Dancers, who entertained on TV’s “Hollywood A Go-Go.” She also appeared on “Playboy After Dark.”
She went through two failed marriages. A daughter from one of them did not live with her.
When accounts of her difficulties surfaced in The Times and on “Good Morning America,” old friends and total strangers offered to help. A photographer updated her portfolio, a producer paid for the driving lessons she needed to reinstate her license and former classmates reached out to her.
“I want to work,” she told The Times. “I’m going to be self-sufficient. I’m going to take care of my daughter. I want to get a little house and do it right. I’m not thinking small.”
Her friend Sodders, a personal assistant to Three Dog Night drummer Floyd Sneed, said that Fairchild stuck to her pledge of sobriety.
Fairchild had a number of ailments, including fibromyalgia, Sodders said.
In addition to her daughter Megan Mull, Fairchild is survived by her brother Jerry Wilson and a 2-month-old grandson.
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