Claudine Longet Biography

Best known today as the subject of a devas - tating Saturday Night Live parody in which she accidentally shoots a downhill skier numerous times, Claudine Longet was a successful singer as well as the one-time wife of crooner Andy Wil - liams before the tragic incident that transformed her into a near recluse. Born in Paris on January 29, 1942, Longet began performing in the Las Vegas production of the Folies Bergere at 19 eventually becoming the show's premier dancer. In Vegas she caught the eye of "Moon River" singing sensation Andy Williams whose popular television variety show had made him a household name in America. Fourteen years her senior, Williams had first noticed Longet as a beautiful nine-year-old child roller-skating in Paris. Their paths crossed again in 1961 when Williams helped Longet with a car problem after one of her lounge shows. Married that same year, Longet took time out of her career to bear the singer the first of their three children. By 1964, however, Longet was ready to return to work landing (with Williams' un - doubted help) guest shots on several television shows including Combat!, Hogan's Heroes, and 12 O'Clock High. Regular appearances on The Andy Williams Show led to a recording contract with A&M in 1966 and the release the next year of her first album, Claudine. Longet's heavily accented breathy voice appeared regularly on A&M albums throughout the late 1960s (The Look of Love, 1967; Colors, 1968; Love Is Blue, 1968) and beginning in 1969 on Williams' own Barnaby imprint with We've Only Just Begun and Let's Spend the Night Together (1972). In motion pictures, Longet's most enduring role was as a French ingenue opposite Peter Sellers in The Party (1968). Although Longet and her three children continued to appear as the "happy family" on Andy Williams' highly rated annual holiday shows, the couple separated in 1970 and divorced in 1976 after fourteen years of marriage. Longet, however, had "moved on" long before the final split relocating with her children to the ritzy Rocky Mountain ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado. By 1972 she was romantically involved with Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, a top downhill skier who won backto- back pro skiing championships in 1970–1971. Sabich, semi-retired since suffering a serious accident in the final race of the 1973 season, was a popular local celebrity and a darling of Aspen society. In 1974, Longet with children in tow, moved into Sabich's $250,000 chalet in the exclusive Starwood subdivision of the mountain ski resort. Life for Longet was idyllic as she related to a reporter two months before her divorce from Andy Williams in 1976-"I am a fortunate woman. I have a husband. I have my children and I also have my man. There is no reason two people can't live as Andy and I do." Two years into the living arrangement, how - ever, Sabich was seemingly ready to redefine his cooling relationship with Longet and her three children (ranging in ages from 6 to 12). In early 1976, he asked her to find separate living arrangements and set April 1 as the deadline for her to move out. On the evening of March 21, 1976, Sabich was in the bedroom of his chalet packing to leave for a ski show in Las Vegas the next day. Clad only in blue thermal underwear, the champion skier was in the bathroom preparing to shower when Longet approached him with a .22- caliber pistol he had purchased months before for home protection. According to Longet, the gun accidentally discharged while Sabich was instructing her on how to safely use it. Struck in the left side of the abdomen, he fell to the bathroom floor and was rapidly bleeding out in Longet's arms when her three children appeared on the scene. She frantically called the ambulance and was with her lover as he died en route to the hospital. The skier's death rocked the closely knit town of Aspen with popular opinion decidedly against Longet, an "outsider" in the ski community. Weeks later on April 7, 1976, Longet was ar - raigned in an Aspen courtroom on a felony man - slaughter charge and, if convicted, faced a possible 10 year prison sentence. As he did throughout all his ex-wife's subsequent legal proceedings, Andy Williams was in the courtroom lending her moral (and most likely financial) support. Armed with Longet's personal diary found in a police search of the couple's bedroom, District Attorney Frank Tucker, a longtime friend of the dead man, felt he had a compelling case for a felony conviction. The diary chronicled the couple's deteriorating relationship, a fact supported by interviews with friends who told of increasing friction between the singer and the skier. Blood tests rumored to show Longet had used cocaine prior to the shooting further bolstered the prosecution's case. Under advice of co-counsels Charles Weedman from Los Angeles and Aspen attorney Ronald Austin, Longet pleaded "not guilty" to the charge on June 10, 1976. The couple was deeply in love, her lawyers argued, and the shooting was accidental and under the law was criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. Legal wrangling over the potentially damaging evidence continued until December 1976 when the Colorado Supreme Court dealt the prosecution a near lethal blow. In a unanimous ruling the court held the police should have requested a search warrant prior to searching the bedroom for evidence. Longet's diary, found in the bedroom dresser hidden under a pile of clothing, was ruled inadmissible as was the blood test reportedly showing drugs in her system. Jury selection in January 1977 revealed the depth of anti–Longet sentiment in the commu - nity. One potential juror, the town's mayor, was excused because he had already told a number of his constituents that the singer-actress was guilty. Five days and 62 juror interviews later, five women and seven men (with a median age in the mid–40s) were impaneled to hear the case against Longet. In the courtroom lending his support, often seated next to the ubiquitous Andy Wil - liams, was Aspen regular Jack Nicholson. The trial began on January 9, 1977, with prosecutor Frank Tucker arguing that while the shooting was accidental Claudine Longet's reckless actions caused the German Luger knockoff to discharge. Andy Williams, surely among the most supportive exhusbands in the history of show business, was called to the stand to emphatically refute the testimony of an Aspen restaurateur who reportedly overheard the singer refer to Longet as "a crazy chick" who "likes to ski fast and drive fast." The doe-eyed entertainer took the stand and tearfully related the tragic events of March 21, 1976. Admitting Sabich had given her a "mutually" acceptable move-out deadline, Longet maintained that they still remained a devoted couple. The gun accidentally discharged while Sabich was showing her how to use it to protect herself and the children during his absence on a business trip to Las Vegas. She attempted to administer mouthto- mouth resuscitation, but the mortally wounded skier died in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Longet's "slippery finger" story was supported by the defense's firearms expert who testi - fied that not only was the gun's safety broken (a point conceded by the prosecution), but also a "greasy residue" on the weapon's internal workings might have caused the fatal misfire. The case went to the jury on January 14, 1977, with Longet facing a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $30,000 fine if convicted of felony reckless manslaughter. Three hours and forty minutes later the singer sat expressionless as the verdict was announced-acquittal on the felony charge, but guilty of misdemeanor negligent homicide. Outside the courtroom Longet told reporters, "There is not really very much to say. Only that I have too much respect for living things to do that. I'm not guilty." Co-counsel Charles Weedman blamed Aspen for the verdict. "The evil in this town was the gossip about Spider and Claudine. For all of this, there should be some shame in this community." On January 30, 1977, Longet was sentenced to 30 days in jail and placed on two years probation, an unusually light judgment considering the maximum sentence could have been two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Angered the judge would not let her set her own dates of confinement around the care of her children, Longet lashed out at District Attorney Frank Tucker, an individual she characterized as "more concerned with his own ambitions than with justice." In her defense, Tucker was found guilty in January 1978 of two counts of felony embezzlement of public funds and forced to leave office in disgrace. By the time the convictions were overturned, the former district attorney was out of the legal profession. In March 2000 Frank Tucker reportedly owned a mortuary business in the Aspen area. If Longet thought the legal system was through with her after she served her month in a 14' by 16' cell in Aspen's Pritkin County Jail she was naive. In May 1977 the parents of her dead lover filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Longet alleging she acted with "malice, insult and a wanton and reckless disregard of Sabich's rights." The case was settled in September 1979 for an undisclosed sum of money. At the time, Longet signed a confidentiality agreement and to date has not spoken publicly of the tragic killing of Spider Sabich. The woman who before March 21, 1976, was most famous for being the ex-wife of Andy "Moon River" Wil - liams married Ron Austin, the Aspen-based attorney who co-defended her, and lives quietly in the ski resort town. Sabich has achieved an immortality of sorts in Aspen's Hard Rock Cafe where his skis and medals are offered in a framed display.

Comments