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Sunny von Bulow Dies
December 6, 2008 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Martha "Sunny" von Bulow died this weekend at a nursing home in New York City, nearly 28 years after being found unconscious at her Rhode Island estate (and subsequently falling into an irreversible coma) in December 1980. Her husband Claus, who obviously became a controversial figure, was found guilty of her attempted murder (the alleged method being an overdose of insulin), but his conviction was overturned on appeal and he received a second trial in which he was acquitted. The sensational case, which featured testimony from many notables including Truman Capote, attracted worldwide publicity and rocked high society. It spawned numerous books, television shows and a 1990 movie.
posted by amyms (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
RIP.

Also one of my favourite movies of all time. Glenn Close is obviously a winner, and nobody does impeccably charming creepy better than Jeremy Irons.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:58 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


.

Lemony Snicket's Klaus and Sunny character names were borrowed from the Von Bulow's
posted by brujita at 12:38 AM on December 7, 2008


brujita, I've been reading Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events to my son, and (I apologize to the late Mrs Von Bulow for this) Sunny and Klaus Baudelaire immediately sprang to mind. And then I read this bit from Dominic Dunne's Vanity Fair piece (3rd link):

"One of the many stories about Andrea Reynolds...was that she wore Mrs. von Bülow’s clothes and jewels...

“Not true!” Mrs. Reynolds had exclaimed when I mentioned these allegations a few days earlier. “I have far better jewels than Sunny von Bülow ever had. I’ve had fantastic jewels all my life. I wasn’t even twenty when I had one of the biggest diamonds around. Be careful what you say about my jewels; I don’t want to be robbed again.”

She suffered a million-dollar jewel heist at her villa in Saint-Tropez in the late sixties, and was quoted then by the French columnist Jacques Chazot as saying, “They were only my bijoux de plage.” Another robbery occurred in her New York hotel suite when she was at the movies seeing Deep Throat, and once a pair of $80,000 earrings disappeared from a dressing room at Dior in Paris after she removed them to try on turbans. She suspects that they were lifted by an American-born duchess of historical importance who used the dressing room after her.

She opened several velvet boxes on the bed, revealing a treasure trove of emeralds, diamonds, and pearls. “Mummy sent me these,” she said.


"Oh dear, can't I even try on a turban without some American-born duchess of {huge air-quotes}historical importance{/huge air-quotes} absconding with Mummy's jewels?"
Esme Squalor, amirite?

Oh, and . for Sunny. Way to inspire a few good books and a movie in your sleep, girl!
posted by maryh at 12:58 AM on December 7, 2008


Er, but Wallis Simpson's jewels sold for $45 million in 1987, after her death. Why would she steal $80,000 earings?
posted by orthogonality at 1:43 AM on December 7, 2008


. for Sunny. Since I'd heard of her, but had no idea what the story around her was.

And oh my God, I want to have lunch with Andrea Reynolds. And refer to all my jewelry as bijoux de plage. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
posted by kalimac at 2:39 AM on December 7, 2008


What does "bijoux de plage" mean? Bijoux means jewelry and plage means beach (I think). What does it mean idiomatically? I really like Reversal of Fortune.
posted by bluefly at 3:34 AM on December 7, 2008


What does "bijoux de plage" mean?

"Oh, they were just the rubbishy old things I took on holiday, dahling, nothing special."
posted by andraste at 3:37 AM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Bijoux de plage are to serious jewels as beach books are to serious works of literature.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:31 AM on December 7, 2008


Never heard of her. But yeah apparently she lived in my state. The ProJo has an article on her. I can't tell you if it's any good or not because I'm currently too busy bouncing off the walls about the half inch of snow that fell and OH MY GOD IT'S SNOWING WOO.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:20 AM on December 7, 2008


SUNNY! SUNNY! Jeremy Irons chews scenery...
posted by fixedgear at 7:10 AM on December 7, 2008


I waded through the first two pages of the Vanity Fair article about Claus von Bulow and I came to the following conclusion:

Claus von Bulow's life is boring. There is no other way to describe it. Sometimes it's scary, but mostly just annoying and boring.
posted by sour cream at 8:26 AM on December 7, 2008


There's something seriously wrong with our medical system when someone can live uninterrupted in a coma for 28 years. To put that in perspective: she spent more time in a coma than Kurt Cobain or Jim Hendrix spent alive, and she was in a coma since before Britney Spears was born. The movie that was made about her being in a coma - which came out a decade after she entered the coma - is now old enough to vote. What was the point of all the care and effort that was put into her over the decades she was unconscious?
posted by Kiablokirk at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


. for Sunny.

Sad story, despite the excesses of her milieu. Dominick Dunne's Vanity Fair article (the third FPP link) creeped me out for any number of reasons beyond Sunny's tale itself.

By the way, there's an excellent new book out by science writer Gary Greenberg called The Noble Lie that precisely addresses the knottiest human questions about brain death and when life is longer worth maintaining, as well as fascinating and unsettling thoughts on a range of difficult medical issues from sexual orientation (is it really binary and inflexible?) to cryogenic "immortality." In Japan, apparently, Sunny's case is not the exception, but the rule, with mothers visiting kids in comas for decades and chatting away with them as if they were conscious. This week, I'm interviewing Greenberg about his book on the Well -- feel free to join the conversation even if you're not a Well member by emailing questions to inkwell@well.com and putting "Greenberg" in the subject line.
posted by digaman at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2008


Sorry, I forgot the link to the conversation with Greenberg itself.
posted by digaman at 9:58 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


she was in a coma since before Britney Spears was born.

Lucky her.
posted by jonmc at 9:58 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


When Shallow Grave was in theaters, I read an interesting essay that opened by describing an argument its writer was having with a friend. The essayist had stated that Shallow Grave was the only film that had been narrated by a corpse, and the friend maintained that Reversal of Fortune also fit that description, since it's narrated by Sunny. I wish I could find the article; it was a precursor to a public debate that became full-blown during the Terry Schiavo case.

Kiablokirk, this case sort of exists outside of "our medical system" that the vast majority of the population have to deal with. There was no public cost to keeping Sunny alive, since she was independently wealthy. A lot of the troubling financial questions that come up in other irreversible-coma cases don't really apply here. I feel like keeping her alive for 28 years is no more unconscionable than many other things the super-wealthy do with their money, such as buying millions in blood diamonds. (Count me among those who have a hard time mustering sympathy for billionaire victims of jewel heists.) Hell, earlier this week I watched Paris Hilton buy a $1000 ice-cream sundae that was literally gold-plated.

digaman, all Dunne's work that I've read is similarly creepy; he always comes off as worshiping the rich and famous although the rich and famous he writes about have committed horrible crimes. Later works of his are overly focused on his own presence in the cases he's covering, and, well, there's a reason journalists aren't supposed to do that. His novel/memoir about covering the O. J. Simpson murder trial was truly bizarre in its self-aggrandizement. I've always wondered how he would feel if someone wrote about his daughter's killer (Dominique Dunne was murdered in 1982) in the fawning way he profiles his own subjects.
posted by cirocco at 10:58 AM on December 7, 2008


Oh Jon, snap!
posted by jokeefe at 11:01 AM on December 7, 2008


Once when a waiter poured him wine, he sniffed it, sipped it, savored it, nodded his approval of it, and then continued with the anecdote he was telling about the Dowager Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, concerning Sunny von Bülow’s maid, Maria Schrallhammer, who testified against him in both trials. “ ‘I know how difficult it is to get a good maid,’ Maureen said, ‘but this is ridiculous.’ ”

Reading this article has given me an invaluable feeling, not always available from mere history textbooks, for the eventual outcome of the French revolution.
posted by jokeefe at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2008


digaman, all Dunne's work that I've read is similarly creepy; he always comes off as worshiping the rich and famous although the rich and famous he writes about have committed horrible crimes

I know what you mean. Dunne's writing is a guilty pleasure for me -- I'm a kid from a lower middle-class family in Jew Nersey, so reading about all these croquet matches among Dukes and Duchesses and 14-room Fifth Avenue apartments is like some dizzying drug. And as a writer myself, I take microscopic note of how Dunne always precisely locates himself in the milieu with sentences like this from the FPP link:

"For the first several weeks of the trial in Providence, my room at the Baltimore Plaza Hotel was on the same floor as the rooms von Bulow and Mrs. Reynolds shared. For several years I had seen the two of them around New York. Although we had never spoken, we had often been at the same parties or in the same restaurants."

Dunne is basically the ruling-class equivalent of a jazz fan, a Dylan aficionado, or a Deadhead, reporting minutiae with the same state of breathless intoxication as issues of life and death.
posted by digaman at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sunny von Bulow was, I believe, the ne plus ultra of the idle rich.
posted by grounded at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The first time I saw the movie, I swear the song over the closing credits was "When Sunny Gets Blue."
posted by merelyglib at 1:05 PM on December 7, 2008


.

The poor creature. I heard a rumor about her that I doubt, but that stayed with me: that a few medical professors and students occasionally paid secret visits to Sunny von Bulow in her room. Supposedly she provided a rare opportunity to observe decomposition in a living body. (How could that even be? If she was living then her cellular structures were operating, and if the rumormonger meant muscle atrophy, it can be observed in many other patients. But still, a haunting thought.)

I never can stand reading about the neurotic, moneyed imbeciles in the typical New York Times Magazine style or lifestyle articles. But, looking back, they are a considerable improvement on the generation of privileged New Yorkers that they displaced.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2008


I waded through the first two pages of the Vanity Fair article about Claus von Bulow and I came to the following conclusion:

Claus von Bulow's life is boring. There is no other way to describe it. Sometimes it's scary, but mostly just annoying and boring.


I can see that. Often really rich people stop taking advantage of what they do have becuasee they too are bored with it all.

We are all very well off in the west. It's easy to get bored.

I keep that in mind when I think of some of my very wealthy friends and relatives. I observed the differences between their lives and my own are pretty superficial over all.

But then about ten years ago I got to briefly hang out with some like REALLY wealthy people. Like private jet, almost aristocratic, wealthy. Being wealthy is'nt what I thought it was when I met these people.

Holy shit.

As an example you wanna go somewhere? You make a call and when you want to go, you go. You don't ever worry about anybody else's schedule. Somebody packs your bags and loads them. They hassle with hotels and reservations. You just walk into the room. Somebody else worries about how to find places. You can go to any show, and concert, any play, any time you want. You wanna meet the band? Hey. Sure. No problem. Your clothes are pressed and waiting for you. Forgot your swim trunks or a sport coat? No problem. Somebody gets it for you before you need it. And you like it. And it fits. And all this happens like magic. Invisibly. I could get used to that.

There is literally no impediment between what you want to do and doing it.

But what's weird for normal people? It's like always, your whole life, being on vacation with out any of the unplanned quirks.

My wife and I were thinking how awesome it all was. But the funny thing it's not one the stories we commonly tell. I guess it would be like bragging about having your diaper changed or something.

When we tell stories about our life they almost always revolve around what we didn't plan. Like most people, that's the interesting stuff. The stuff that went wrong. Like when were broke and got stay for free in the Bahamas. All the hassle it was to get to this private tiny island. Riding on boats and planes with chickens and goats in our laps. And then a hurricane hit (hmmm I wonder why it was free) while we are on shrooms and not having any food or water - except for booze.

All that kind of crazy shit that, while it's happening, you'd rather not deal with, later, make life worthwhile. No wonder rich people seem bored.

Though a private jet that could take me to Paris for dinner would be pretty sweet.
posted by tkchrist at 3:25 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


i remember back when i first moved to boston and this trial was going on, the best headline i ever read in the boston herald 'klaus is a louse'
posted by brandz at 6:01 PM on December 7, 2008


a few medical professors and students occasionally paid secret visits to Sunny von Bulow in her room. Supposedly she provided a rare opportunity to observe decomposition in a living body.

Not exactly true. But during the years that she was hospitalized on the Milstein pavilion of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, it's said that she was frequently visited (openly) by neurological students, residents and professors, who cherished the opportunity to perform the neurological exam on a nearly perfectly decorticate human body - the mythical and elusive "brainstem prep."
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:32 PM on December 7, 2008


The essayist had stated that Shallow Grave was the only film that had been narrated by a corpse, and the friend maintained that Reversal of Fortune also fit that description, since it's narrated by Sunny.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of Sunset Boulevard, which was narrated by the main character Joe Gillis after his corpse was found floating face-down in a swimming pool. At the time, I even remember movie reviews of Reversal of Fortune that pointed out the connection with Sunset Boulevard.

By the way, does anybody like me feel bad that the only thing they can remember about Sunny von Bulow is Klaus von Bulow's gallows humor in Reversal Fortune?

Q: What do you get the wife who has everything?

A: An injection of insulin

Q: What do you call an unnatural fear of insulin?

A: CLAUS-trophobia

.
posted by jonp72 at 7:30 AM on December 8, 2008


The essayist had stated that Shallow Grave was the only film that had been narrated by a corpse, and the friend maintained that Reversal of Fortune also fit that description, since it's narrated by Sunny.

By the way, IMDB has a list of films that feature narration from beyond the grave. The earliest on the list appears to be The Human Comedy from 1943.
posted by jonp72 at 7:36 AM on December 8, 2008


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