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Dominique Dunne
Dominique Dunne.jpg
Dunne in 1982
Dominique Ellen Dunne

(1959-11-23)November 23, 1959
Died November 4, 1982(1982-11-04) (aged 22)
Burial place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Education Harvard-Westlake School
Taft School
Fountain Valley School
Occupation Actress
Years active 1979–1982
Notable work
Poltergeist (1982)
Parent(s) Dominick Dunne
Ellen Griffin Dunne
Relatives Griffin Dunne (brother)
John Gregory Dunne (uncle)
Joan Didion (aunt)
Hannah Dunne (niece)

Dominique Ellen Dunne (November 23, 1959 – November 4, 1982) was an American actress. Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Dunne studied acting at Milton Katselas' Workshop, where she appeared in stage productions. She made her on-screen debut with the television film Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker, and thereafter played the recurring roles of Erica on the drama series Family (1980), and Paulina Bornstein on the comedy series Breaking Away (1980–1981).

Dunne's breakthrough came with the starring role of Dana Freeling in the horror film Poltergeist (1982), establishing her as a horror icon. She went on to headline the western film The Shadow Riders (1982), and portray Amy Kent on the crime series CHiPs (1982). Dunne was cast in the miniseries V (1983); however, she died midway through filming, and was replaced by Blair Tefkin.

On October 30, 1982, Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, during an argument on the driveway of her West Hollywood home. She fell into a coma and died five days later on November 4, 1982. In a court case which gained significant media coverage, Sweeney was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Dunne's death, and served three and a half years in prison.

Life and career

Childhood, education and family

Dunne was born in Santa Monica, California, the youngest child of Ellen Beatriz "Lenny" (née Griffin), a ranching heiress, and Dominick Dunne, a writer, producer, and actor. Dunne had Irish and Mexican ancestry, her father was born and raised in an Irish Catholic family with her maternal grandfather an Irish-American and her maternal grandmother a Mexican who was from Sonora, Mexico. Dunne had two older brothers, Alexander "Alex" and Griffin Dunne, who is an actor and director. She was also the niece of married novelists John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion. Her godparents were Maria Cooper-Janis, daughter of actors Gary Cooper and Veronica "Rocky" Cooper, and producer Martin Manulis. Her parents divorced in 1967.

Dunne attended Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, and Fountain Valley School in Fountain, Colorado. After graduation, she spent a year in Florence, Italy, where she learned Italian. She studied acting at Milton Katselas' Workshop and appeared in various stage productions, including West Side Story, The Mousetrap, and My Three Angels.

Acting career

Dunne in the 1981 television film The Day the Loving Stopped

Dunne's first role was in the 1979 television film, Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker. She then got supporting roles in episodes of popular 1980s television series, such as Lou Grant, Family, Hart to Hart, and Fame. Dunne also had a recurring role on the comedy-drama television series, Breaking Away, and she also appeared in several other television films.

After her television appearances, in 1981, Dunne was cast in the supernatural horror film Poltergeist in the main role of Dana Freeling, the teenaged daughter of a couple whose family is terrorized by malevolent ghosts. The film was produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, and served as her feature film debut. Poltergeist was theatrically released in 1982, which marks both her first starring role and her only appearance in a theatrical feature. It went on to become a critical and commercial success, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film of 1982, and since its release it has acquired a cult following. She was set to reprise the role in the following installments of the franchise, but she died before production began on the sequels; Poltergeist II: The Other Side, filmed in 1985 and released in 1986, it explains her character's absence by stating that she has gone off to attend college.

Posthumous releases and unfinished projects

Dunne appeared posthumously in the Hill Street Blues episode, "Requiem For a Hairbag,” which aired on November 18, 1982, only two weeks after her death. The episode aired on November 18, 1982, 12 days after her funeral, and it was dedicated to her memory.

Dunne was cast in the miniseries V in 1982; she died during filming, so her role was portrayed by actress Blair Tefkin. According to series creator Kenneth Johnson, recovered footage of Dunne was used in a cameo appearance. The series was released in 1983, and is dedicated to her memory.

Relationship with John Sweeney

Dunne met John Thomas Sweeney, a sous-chef at the restaurant Ma Maison, at a party in 1981. After a few weeks of dating, they moved into a one-bedroom house together on Rangely Avenue in West Hollywood. Due to Sweeney's jealousy and possessiveness, however, the relationship quickly deteriorated. The couple frequently fought, and Sweeney began to physically abuse Dunne. Dunne and Sweeney often argued. In 1982, she ended the relationship. After he moved out, she had the locks changed and moved back into the Rangely Avenue home.


On October 30, 1982, a few weeks after Sweeney and Dunne broke up, Sweeney showed up at Dunne's home. After speaking to him through the locked door, Dunne agreed to speak to him on the porch. The two began to argue.

Dominique Dunne headstone
Headstone of Dunne's grave

Sweeney later testified that he and Dunne had argued, but he could not remember what happened after their exchange. He claimed that he could only recall being on top of her, with his hands around her neck.

Dunne was transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she was placed on life support. She never regained consciousness. Over the following days, doctors performed brain scans, which revealed that due to oxygen deprivation, she had no brain activity. On November 4, her parents consented to have her removed from life support. At the request of her mother, Dunne's kidneys and heart were donated to transplant recipients. Her funeral was held on November 6 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Her godfather, Martin Manulis, delivered the eulogy. She was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

On the night of Dunne's attack, responding officers found Sweeney standing by Dunne's unconscious body in her driveway. He was immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder. Those charges were dropped after Dunne's death, however, and subsequently, Sweeney was charged with first-degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty. Sweeney was later charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm.


Year Title Role Notes
1979 Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker Cathy Robinson TV movie
1979–1980 Lou Grant Various roles 2 episodes
1980 Family Erica 1 episode
1980 Valentine Magic on Love Island Cheryl TV movie
1980–1981 Breaking Away Paulina Bornstein 4 episodes
1981 CBS Children's Mystery Theatre Polly Ames Episode: "The Haunting of Harrington House"
1981 The Day the Loving Stopped Judy Danner TV movie
1982 Fame Tracy Episode: "Street Kid"
1982 Hart to Hart Christy Ferrin Episode: "Hart, Line, and Sinker"
1982 Poltergeist Dana Freeling Theatrical film
1982 The Shadow Riders Sissy Traven TV movie
1982 CHiPs Amy Kent Episode: "Meet the New Guy"
1982 The Quest Italian Girl Episode: "He Stole-a My Art"
1982 Hill Street Blues Abandoned Baby's Mother Episode: "Requiem for a Hairbag"
1983 V Robin Maxwell Part 1; Only the back of her head is still visible in one shot. The series is dedicated to her memory.

[[Category:1982 deaths]

See also

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