Aspen tragedy--24 years ago, pro skier "Spider" Sabich was shot dead by his longtime lover, Claudine Longet
Before Aspen became a celebrity playground for the likes of Goldie Hawn and Michael Douglas, Vladimir ”Spider” Sabich and Claudine Longet were the glammest bunnies the Colorado town had to offer. Parisian-born Longet, a recording artist and former Folies-Bergere dancer who’d once been wed to Andy Williams, embodied the chicness of L.A. and Europe; Sabich was an Olympic skier-turned-professional champion. The couple, who lived with Longet’s three children from her marriage to Williams, were, as Longet once said, ”everything that a man and woman should be to each other.”
History might disagree: On March 21, 1976, Longet killed her lover with a single bullet to the stomach. It was, she claimed, a terrible accident.
As Longet would later testify in court — where a weeping Williams offered support — she had followed Sabich into the bathroom and asked him to show her how to use his gun. Without warning, the gun went off. The prosecution thought differently, but was stymied at every turn. Longet’s diary, which detailed the couple’s relationship, had been seized illegally and couldn’t be admitted as evidence; also disallowed was a blood test that reportedly showed drugs in Longet’s system. For the defense, a ballistics expert testified that the gun’s safety catch was defective. On Jan. 14, 1977, Longet was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, fined $25, and sentenced to 30 days in a local county jail — at a time of her own choosing.
Longet’s attorney, Ron Austin, not only won Longet’s case, but her heart as well: The two are now married and living in Aspen. As for the prosecutor, Frank Tucker, he said years later, ”I’ve always known she shot Spider Sabich and meant to do it. She was an over-the-hill glamour puss, and she was not going to lose another man.” Unfortunately, Tucker lost more than the trial: In 1978, he was found guilty of two counts of embezzlement (which were later overturned). He resigned and now owns a mortuary business.
Longet, who settled a $1.3 million civil suit brought by Sabich’s family, signed a confidentiality agreement and has not publicly spoken of the case since. But the event still managed to become a part of our popular culture: After Sabich’s death, Saturday Night Live ran a skit in which skiers crashed down a slope to the sound of bullets, while Jane Curtin remarked to Chevy Chase as one man fell, ”Uh-oh. He seems to have been accidentally shot by Claudine Longet.” And in what is perhaps the true test of celebrity endurance, the late Sabich has his very own shrine: a framed display including his skis and medals at Aspen’s outpost of the Hard Rock Cafe.
Time Capsule: March 21, 1976
AT THE MOVIES, Robert De Niro shocks audiences with his portrayal of a psycho cabbie in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. IN MUSIC, the Four Seasons’ throwback ditty ”December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” continues its run atop the Billboard singles chart. IN BOOKSTORES, Gore Vidal’s historical narrative 1876 is No. 1 on the Publisher’s Weekly best-seller list. AND IN THE NEWS, Ronald Reagan concedes the North Carolina primary, jeopardizing his (ultimately futile) bid to snatch the Republican nomination from President Gerald Ford.