When Truman Capote died on Aug. 25, 1984, at the L.A. home of Johnny Carson’s ex-wife Joanne, the autopsy revealed that he had overdosed on pills—Valium, codeine, barbiturates. At 59, Capote had become what he most wanted to be—a celebrity writer—but he was also a broken man, demonized by addictions to alcohol and drugs, savaged by rejection.
He had overcome formidable odds to achieve his fame: Raised in Monroeville, Ala., he was a high school dropout, the son of an alcoholic mother who committed suicide and a ne’er-do-well, check-kiting father. But his novels, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), and his ”nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood (1966), brought him both fame and cachet. He was everywhere—at parties and on talk shows and magazine covers, dispensing an arsenal of sniper’s wit (on Andy Warhol: ”He’s a sphinx without a secret”).
Capote’s life reached a climax of sorts on Nov. 28, 1966, with his Black and White Ball at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. His closest friends, 450 of them, were there, including Lee Radziwill, Frank Sinatra, and Mia Farrow. The New York Times called it ”as spectacular a group as has ever been assembled for a private party in New York.”
The charmed circle broke when Capote developed writer’s block on Answered Prayers, his viperish satire on the rich he knew so well. After missing several deadlines, he published portions in Esquire during the mid-’70s. ”La Cote Basque,” a skewering of the sexual peccadilloes of the wealthy, mixed real people (like Jackie Onassis) with thinly disguised characters (like media mogul Bill Paley). The jet set’s pet had bitten them and they bit back, banishing him from their orbit. Over the next nine years, Capote checked in and out of rehab, sometimes only for a matter of hours before drinking again, finishing just three chapters of Answered Prayers.
His autopsy fixed the cause of death as liver disease, ”complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication.” Whether the amount of drugs in his body was accidental or intentional still remains a question. He got his last title from Saint Therese, who said, ”More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” For Capote, at least, it was true.
Aug. 25, 1984: ( Ghostbusters haunted movie theaters while Ray Parker Jr.’s soundtrack single worked its magic on radio. Dallas rounded up the highest TV ratings, and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln: A Novel topped the best-seller list.