Movie Article

The trials of Marlon Brando

The turbulent life of Marlon Brando's children -- Christian and Cheyenne Brando have dealt with a lifetime of drugs, neglect, alcohol, and murder

With one word — ''Guilty'' — the long, tragic trajectory of Marlon Brando and his family finally seemed to hit bottom. On January 4th, attorney Robert Shapiro entered a guilty plea in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of his client, Christian Brando. The result of a deal struck between defense and prosecutors, the admission process took only 10 minutes; the defendant's father, Marlon Brando, had no role to play and stayed home. At the heart of the case was the undisputed fact that Christian fatally shot Dag Drollet, his sister Cheyenne's boyfriend, on the night of May 16, 1990, in the TV room of his father's Los Angeles home. But around that central horror, and inexorably linked with it in a large, tragic, Hollywood mosaic, are all the strange turns of these last, dark years of Marlon Brando.

Brando is, of course, not only an actor of mythic proportions, but also one of the great celebrity activists of the past 25 years. In a way, he represents the conscience of his profession. Through his often misguided but always genuinely well-intentioned efforts on behalf of Native Americans, the Black Panthers, and the ecology movement, he has emerged as one of the very few who has tried to walk it like he talks it.

As an artist, Brando has performed in just two roles in the past decade, a self-imposed exile that could be crippling in a business where performance is everything. Yet during this professional absence, his personal life, far from bringing riches of other kinds, has become a downward spiral of calamity. His son's sentencing hearing begins February 26: Christian faces a maximum of 16 years, and because California law permits the prosecution to introduce information about his violent past, prosecutors are hoping he'll get as many as 10. Brando's daughter Cheyenne, 21, always given to bizarre behavior, has grown worse. She was physically scarred in a severe automobile accident in Tahiti in August of '89, and since her release from the hospital she has often seemed out of control. She was pregnant with Dag Drollet's child, yet reportedly continued to take hallucinogenic drugs. She has attempted suicide twice in the last two months, the second time trying to hang herself with a length of dog chain after coming home from a disco at 3 a.m. After her brother entered a guilty plea to killing the father of her infant child, she was flown to Paris with her mother, her doctor, and a new boyfriend, as well as her father's Tahitian public-relations man, and was checked into one of Europe's most exclusive psychiatric clinics.

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