‘May he sleep in bliss for eternity, enjoying the thrill of our applause forever’: Last Picture Show giant Peter Bogdanovich dies at 82 – after enduring bankruptcy, addiction and a love life tainted by tragedy

  • When Peter Bogdanovich died aged 82 on Thursday, the film industry mourned
  • He was a bankrupt, a drug addict and a man who stood accused of seducing the 13-year-old half-sister of his murdered girlfriend
  • He was also a revered director, a splendid actor and an accomplished screenwriter

He was a bankrupt, a drug addict and a man who stood accused of seducing the 13-year-old half-sister of his murdered girlfriend, then paying for her to have cosmetic surgery so that she looked more like her sibling.

Later, she became his second wife. Peter Bogdanovich was also a revered director, a splendid actor and an accomplished screenwriter.

When he died on Thursday, at the age of 82, the film industry mourned. 

‘May he sleep in bliss for eternity, enjoying the thrill of our applause forever,’ said fellow director Francis Ford Coppola.

Shortly after splitting up with Shepherd, Peter Bogdanovich started dating nude model and actress Dorothy Stratten (pictured), whom he had met at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion. In August 1980, the year in which she was Playmate of the Year in Playboy magazine, Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband, a nightclub promoter and pimp, who then shot himself

And yet there was a time when his failures were celebrated. 

‘It isn’t true that Hollywood is a bitter place divided by hatred, greed and jealousy,’ another great director, Billy Wilder, once said. 

‘All it takes to bring everyone together is another flop by Peter Bogdanovich.’

Such were the paradoxes that governed this charismatic genius.

Even by Tinseltown standards, Bogdanovich’s life was a roller coaster of spectacular highs and calamitous lows, although he seemed to have had the Midas touch with the lives of others.

His wonderful 1973 film Paper Moon, about Depression era con artists, made ten-year-old Tatum O’Neal the youngest ever winner of an Academy Award.

His masterpiece The Last Picture Show – only his second film, made two years earlier – won Oscars for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, and made stars of a young Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd.

Bogdanovich allegedly seduced Stratten’s much younger half-sister Louise shortly after the murder, when she was just 13. Bogdanovich fiercely denied it and dismissed as ‘garbage’ claims that he paid to have Louise’s jaw altered to make her look more like Dorothy. In 1988, when Louise was 20, the age Dorothy was when she died, he married her – aged 49. Pictured: Louise Stratten and Bogdanovich together in 1993

During filming, she and Bogdanovich began an affair. He left his first wife and their two young daughters, and stayed with Shepherd for eight years, by which time his career had stalled.

The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and the wildly popular 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up Doc? were followed by a series of duds.

The darkest experience of his life, however, was yet to come. Shortly after splitting up with Shepherd, Bogdanovich started dating nude model and actress Dorothy Stratten, whom he had met at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion.

In August 1980, the year in which she was Playmate of the Year in Playboy magazine, Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband, a nightclub promoter and pimp, who then shot himself. Bogdanovich was inconsolable. 

‘For several years his grief became practically a full-time occupation. He had cast Stratten in a romantic comedy, They All Laughed, which came out after her death and he watched it obsessively ‘as if communing with a ghost’.

In his 1984 book The Killing Of The Unicorn, an account of his relationship with Stratten, he blamed her tragic death partly on Hefner, for ‘commodifying’ her and other young women.

The Playboy boss retaliated furiously, claiming Bogdanovich seduced Stratten’s much younger half-sister Louise shortly after the murder, when she was just 13. 

Bogdanovich fiercely denied it and dismissed as ‘garbage’ Hefner’s claims that he paid to have Louise’s jaw altered to make her look more like Dorothy.

In 1988, when Louise was 20, the age Dorothy was when she died, he married her – aged 49. ‘She was like a contact with Dorothy, as far as I was concerned,’ he later admitted. They divorced in 2001.

Bogdanovich with actress Cybill Shepherd photographed in May 1974 just prior to the release of Daisy Miller

Bogdanovich was born in upstate New York in 1939. His father was a Christian Serb, his mother an Austrian Jew, and both had fled Europe to escape the Nazi threat.

They had already lost a son, who died as a baby when a pot of boiling soup was accidentally spilled on him – a tragedy that shrouded the family home in sadness.

He found refuge in the cinema, making notes on every film, and yearned to become an actor, though it was behind the camera that he found real fame and fluctuating fortune – being declared bankrupt twice, in 1985 and 1997.

He lost millions by buying the rights to They All Laughed and trying to distribute it himself in an irrational bid to honour Stratten’s memory, leaving himself with just $21.37 in the bank.

But by the time of his death Bogdanovich had bounced back, making acclaimed documentaries about other great Hollywood figures.

His lugubrious, jowly features also became well-known to fans of The Sopranos, the hit HBO series about a Mob family in New Jersey, in which he played psychiatrist Dr Elliot Kupferberg.

He certainly knew all about inner demons himself, but it is as a richly talented filmmaker that he will be remembered.

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