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People Vol. 34 No. 20
November 19, 1990
By Jeannie Park, Robin Micheli
Along Tahiti’s western coast, the craggy mountain peaks are carpeted in green and crowned by wispy clouds that float above the isle. The slopes below are ringed by sweet-smelling hibiscus and frangipani, as if the earth were wearing a fragrant robe. It is in this majestic paradise that Marlon Brando built a private retreat nearly 25 years ago, taking Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipia as his lover and wrapping their family in the island’s peaceful beauty. But today the Brandos are sheathed in ugliness. Back in L.A., Marlon has been awaiting the start of his 32-year-old son Christian’s murder trial. And now Tarita, 48—who sees Marlon infrequently these days—is keeping vigil outside a concrete-walled hospital room where their daughter, Cheyenne, 20, is recovering from an apparently suicidal drug overdose that slipped her into a coma for a day. “It is as if,” says a family friend, “Marlon has lost two children.”
Cheyenne’s tragic act is the latest episode in what the locals of this French protectorate are calling “l’ affaire Brando.” It began six months ago, when Cheyenne’s half brother Christian (son of actress Anna Kashfi) shot her Tahitian lover of three years, Dag Drollet, 26, inside Marlon’s home in the Santa Monica mountains. Cheyenne, then pregnant, left for Tahiti soon after the incident and gave birth in late June to son Tuki, presumed to be Drollet’s child.
By phone from L.A., Marlon, 66, has told the Tahitian daily La Dépêche that Cheyenne “simply took too much of the medications that were prescribed by her doctor.” But the editor-in-chief of the paper, Daniel Pardon, a family friend who is serving as the Brandos’ spokesman, claims, “She tried to commit suicide. It was not accidental. It was not two or three pills. It was a lot. Cheyenne took a cocktail of pills, antidepressants and such.”
Cheyenne was found by Tarita on Thursday morning, Nov. 1, in the Brando compound, in the affluent section of Tahiti referred to as the Gold Coast or Mini Beverly Hills. Tarita immediately took her to a local doctor, who called an ambulance to race Cheyenne to Mamao Hospital. According to Pardon, “Her heart was fibrillating. We thought she would die.” But her condition stabilized later that day, and the next morning she opened her eyes briefly and squeezed a nurse’s finger on request, signaling that she was out of the coma. By the following Tuesday, Cheyenne was alert and chatting with family members, but partial memory loss or other neurological impairment could take weeks to assess.
Unlike Christian, whose childhood was torn apart by high-pitched and highly publicized custody battles, Cheyenne grew up in the relative peace and simplicity of Tahiti. “I don’t think I will let them go to the States,” Marlon said in 1976 of Cheyenne and her brother, Teihotu. “As Tahitians, they are too trusting. They would be destroyed by the pace of life in the States.” Indeed, when Cheyenne finally visited the U.S. as a teen, she experienced a difficult cultural adjustment. “Marlon always wanted to be very protective of her,” says a source close to the family. “But it’s difficult to have an idol for your father. And it was hard for her, living the Tahitian way of life but also visiting him in Los Angeles. Neither she nor Christian ever wanted a Hollywood way of living.”
Family friends trace Cheyenne’s collapse back to August 1989, when her car swerved off a Tahitian road and she was hurled onto the surrounding rocks. To repair the injuries to her face, she underwent extensive and painful reconstructive surgery in L.A. Though she is still quite striking, friends speculate that she feels flawed. “Inside her flesh, there is plastic and metal,” Pardon explains. “In Tahiti, physical appearance is very important for a woman. We elect a Miss This or a Miss That every week.” Albert Lecaill, the shooting victim Drollet’s stepfather, says, “Before the accident she was a very nice girl. After the accident she became highly excitable.”
The shooting in May, which Christian claims occurred accidentally during a fight (allegedly sparked because Cheyenne said Drollet was beating her), obviously deepened her despair. It is rumored that Cheyenne had been using drugs, including cocaine. Pardon denies all charges of drug abuse but confirms that after Tuki’s birth Cheyenne was sent to Vaiame, a local psychiatric hospital, where she was given medication to treat her depression.
After Cheyenne’s intermittent visits to Vaiame over a period of two months, Pardon says, “Her problems were beginning to decrease,” and she began working as a booking agent for the resort on the nearby island of Tetiaroa, which her father owns. Ironically, it may have been her recent happiness that sent her to the emergency room. Says Pardon: “She had stopped taking her medication. She probably thought because she was feeling better, she didn’t need [the pills]. But you can’t stop taking them all at once.” As a result, he believes, she became “so anxious” that she attempted to take her own life.
Marlon, says Pardon, was ready to rush to his daughter’s side but was afraid to leave L.A. just as Christian’s trial was set to begin last week. In a voice that was “more than choking,” says Pardon, “he said, ‘If she is dying, I will come immediately, but if the doctors say she is better, I won’t.’ ” Because Cheyenne is herself a key element in the trial—in one statement given to L.A. police before she left, she said that the shooting was intentional—her continued absence from the country could hamper the prosecution. The L.A. district attorney’s office has managed to delay the trial while trying to bring her back to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the once-tranquil Tahiti is seeming more like paradise lost. The free-spirited residents, says Pardon, “are not used to dealing with the police, justice, medicine.” But for the unfortunate Brandos and their circle, those have become a fact of everyday life.
—Jeannie Park, Robin Micheli in Tahiti
Daughter of Brando Kills Herself in Tahiti : Suicide — (Los Angeles Times)
April 18, 1995
ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER
Daughter of Brando Kills Herself in Tahiti : Suicide: The actor’s child Cheyenne was the linchpin of the 1990 case in which her half-brother Christian was charged with killing her lover. She had been troubled by mental problems since.
Actor Marlon Brando’s daughter Cheyenne–the troubled onetime model whose half-brother killed her lover in the movie star’s sprawling Hollywood Hills home–has committed suicide in Tahiti, officials said Monday.
Cheyenne Brando, 25, who had been in seclusion for months, hanged herself at her home on the South Pacific island, authorities said. Friends said she had suffered from depression since Christian Brando fatally shot Dag Drollet in a 1990 case that made news around the world. She reportedly had attempted suicide at least twice previously.
Marlon Brando had no comment Monday and planned to issue no statement, said his agent, Ed Limato. Limato declined to disclose the actor’s whereabouts.
At the time of Drollet’s shooting, Cheyenne Brando–a native of Tahiti–had been visiting Southern California for psychological counseling after being disfigured in an auto accident on the island. She was in her father’s Mulholland Drive home when the shooting occurred and at one time was charged with complicity in Drollet’s death.
The charges against her eventually were dropped. Christian Brando–claiming that the shooting was an accident and that he acted in rage because Drollet had beaten Cheyenne–pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The plea was arranged by his attorney, Robert Shapiro, now one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers.
Cheyenne Brando’s death Sunday came as her father was enjoying resurgent success on the screen playing a psychiatrist in the romantic comedy “Don Juan DeMarco.” His earlier acting triumphs are legendary, including acclaimed performances in the Broadway and film versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Academy Award-winning roles in the films “On the Waterfront” and “The Godfather.”
News reports from Papeete, French Polynesia, indicated that Cheyenne Brando was found hanging in the bedroom of her home in the Punaauia area Sunday night. The reports did not indicate whether a suicide note was found.
Cheyenne Brando, the daughter of Brando and his Polynesian wife, Tarita Tariipia, and Drollet, son of a prominent Tahitian politician, had been living together in Tahiti for more than a year before they separated in March, 1990, according to sources there.
Sources said the separation took place a few months after Cheyenne–a model known for her exotic beauty–was disfigured in a car crash.
Despite the separation, Drollet and Cheyenne flew to Los Angeles together about May 1, 1990, and both moved into the Brando home on Mulholland Drive.
Police said that about 10:40 on the night of May 16, 1990, Drollet, 26, and Christian Brando, then 32, got into an argument.
Christian Brando claimed he shot Drollet accidentally during a struggle after accusing Drollet of “slapping around” his half-sister, who was seven months pregnant with Drollet’s child. Prosecutors charged Christian with murdering Drollet, saying there was no evidence of a struggle.
Marlon Brando, Tariipia and Cheyenne were in the home when Drollet was shot, police said. The actor tried to revive Drollet with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and called 911 to summon police.
A month after the shooting, after attempts were made to serve her with papers naming her as a material witness, Cheyenne flew to Tahiti. Prosecutors said she was trying to avoid testifying in the case. A few days after that, she gave birth to Drollet’s child, and within days she entered a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
In the months that followed, prosecutors launched an international battle to have the young woman returned here to testify at her half-brother’s trial.
While the battle raged, Cheyenne overdosed on tranquilizers and antidepressant drugs and lapsed into a coma at a hospital in Tahiti. She recovered briefly, then tried to hang herself, according to her father.
On Dec. 22, 1990, a judge declared her “mentally disabled,” ending the five-month struggle to compel her to testify. With their star witness in Tahiti and their case a shambles, the prosecutors struck a deal with Shapiro, and Christian Brando pleaded guilty to the manslaughter count.
Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Robert Thomas imposed sentence after listening to an hour of emotional, rambling testimony by the defendant’s famous father.
Gesturing to the photographers in the courtroom, the movie star said the Brando name had blown the case out of proportion.
“This is the Marlon Brando case,” he said. “If Christian were black, Mexican or poor, he wouldn’t be in this courtroom. Everyone wants a piece of the pie.”
Although Christian Brando was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, he has been given time off for good behavior at the state Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, and he could be paroled as soon as January, according to Corrections Department spokesman Tip Kendall.
The escape from testifying did not resolve Cheyenne Brando’s problems.
In January, 1991, she flew to Paris to undergo treatment for a nervous breakdown. Six months later, she disappeared from the clinic where she was being treated.
In November, 1991, after tracking her father to a secluded estate outside Orleans, French police found and arrested Cheyenne on Tahitian charges of complicity in Drollet’s death. She was placed in protective custody at a nearby hospital and was flown to Tahiti on a French military plane. Tahitian authorities later dismissed the charges against her.