Famous Historic Figures' Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives

Khalid Elhassan - June 3, 2020

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Albert Dekker. Film Favorites

5. Hollywood’s Weirdest Death

The accidental death of actor David Carradine in 2009 from autoerotic asphyxiation was weird. The end of the Kung Fu star’s life stood in odd contrast to the public image he had maintained throughout his life. However, it was pretty tame compared to the death of another famous actor, Albert Dekker (1905 – 1968).

Dekker was one of America’s greatest character actors, with a career that spanned 40 years in the theater and on the silver screen, with a filmography of over 110 credits. He won accolades for notable performances in East of Eden, The Killers, Dr. Cyclops, Kiss Me Deadly, as well as in his final acting role in The Wild Bunch. Unfortunately, he is probably best remembered today for an extremely bizarre death, whose manner stood in jarring contrast with his public image.

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Joseph McCarthy. How Stuff Works

4. A Moral Man

In addition to his acting, Albert Dekker won acclaim (eventually – at the time, it damaged his public image) for his moral courage. During the hysteria of the Red Scare early in the Cold War, he actually had the guts to stand up to and denounce the demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Dekker was one of the few actors brave enough to do so, and it got him blacklisted in Hollywood. His career was derailed for years, during which he could find no work. Eventually, the anticommunist hysteria subsided, and he returned to acting.

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Albert Dekker in ‘Dr. Cyclops’. Universal City Studios

3. A Mysterious Disappearance

In 1968, Albert Dekker completed his final role in The Wild Bunch, left the set, and fell off the map. Friends and family grew worried after days passed without anybody hearing from him. After failing to show up for a date with his fiancee, fashion model Geraldine Saunders, she tried calling, but got no response. That was unusual for Dekker, whose public image as a staid and reliable man matched his private life when it came to punctuality.

So Saunders went to Dekker’s apartment and pinned a note on a door already covered by other notes from friends and acquaintances. When she returned later that evening and found things still the same, she convinced the building manager to let her in the apartment. Inside, they found the bathroom door chained from the inside, and had to break it open. There, they discovered a dead Dekker, hanging from a leather belt.

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Katherine Hepburn and Albert Dekker. YouTube

2. A Grotesque Scene

The scene of Albert Dekker’s death was so bizarre and grotesque, that his fiancee collapsed upon witnessing it. The building manager needed minutes to overcome the shock and gather his wits to call the police. There was nothing in either Dekker’s public image or private one that would have prepared anyone for the sight. He was naked in the bathtub, with a ball gag in his mouth, a scarf covering his eyes, and his hands cuffed behind his back. In addition to the belt around his neck, there was another belt around his waist, tied to a rope binding his ankles. That rope, in turn, was looped around his wrist and clasped in his hand.

Sun rays were drawn around his nipples in lipstick, which was also used to draw a vagina on his stomach. A hypodermic needle was sticking out of each arm, and his right butt cheek had two needle punctures, above which the word “whip” was written in lipstick. His body was covered in other words written in lipstick, including “slave”, “cocksucker”, and “make me suck”.

Famous Historic Figures’ Public Image vs the Reality of their Lives
Albert Dekker’s death certificate. Imgur

1. A Bizarre Death’s Mystery

Albert Dekker’s death was initially ruled a suicide. However, after S&M toys and porn were found in his apartment, it was changed to accidental autoerotic asphyxiation while masturbating. Despite the coroner’s ruling, foul play was suspected. For one, his fiancee knew that he had been keeping $70,000 cash in the apartment to buy a new house. The money, as well as expensive cameras and filming equipment, was never found.

It also seemed incredible that Dekker could have tied himself in the manner in which he was discovered, all on his own. Whether he acted alone, or had a partner who panicked and fled after a scandalous game went terribly wrong, or he was murdered, is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. Unfortunately, that weird ending that did more to shape Dekker’s public image and memory than his decades of stellar work and moral stands.

_________________

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, December, 2017 – How John Wayne Became a Hollow Masculine Icon

BBC – Fatty Arbuckle and Hollywood’s First Scandal

Cracked – 5 Famous People Whose Entire Personality Was an Act

Encyclopedia Britannica – Profumo Affair

Guardian, The, February 22nd, 2016 – Last of the Red-Hot Myths: What Gossip Over Rudolph Valentino’s S** Life Says About the Silents

Guardian, The, April 9th, 2017 – Eric Gill: Can We Separate the Artist From the Abuser?

Independent, The, September 18th, 2015 – King Edward VIII: Uncle Who Encouraged Young Queen’s Nazi Salute Plotted With Adolf Hitler to Regain Throne

India Today, November 30th, 1999 – Mahatma & Manuben: Newly Discovered Diaries of Gandhi’s Personal Attendant Reveal How His Experiments With Celibacy Changed Her Life

Live About – Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin

Miedzian, Myriam – Boys Will be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence

New Yorker, September 18th, 2015 – Charlie Chaplin’s Scandalous Life and Boundless Artistry

New York Times, June 16th, 2018 – Monticello is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings

Open Learn – What is the Evidence That King Edward VIII Was a Nazi Sympathizer?

Schoenberger, Nancy – Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero (2017)

Shadows and Satin – The Life and Death of Albert Dekker

Smithsonian Magazine, November 8th, 2011 – The Skinny on the Fatty Arbuckle Trial

Ultimate Classic Rock – When Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin

Vice – Charlie Chaplin Was a Sadistic Tyrant Who F*** Teenage Girls

Vox – Thomas Jefferson Spent Years Raping His Slave Sally Hemings

Washington Post, July 7th, 2017 – Sally Hemings Wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, She Was His Property

Wikipedia – Albert Dekker

Wikipedia – Frances Cleveland

Advertisement