Claudine Longet. Now there's a name from the 1960s and 70s! Wasn't she married to singer Andy Williams? That's right. She and Williams were married from 1961 until 1975. Wasn't she embroiled in a scandal? That's right, too. In 1976, Longet was arrested and charged with reckless manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend, U.S. Olympic alpine ski racer Vladimir "Spider" Sabich. Her trial was a media circus. It was comparable to the O.J. Simpson trial of the 1970s, only there was no CNN back then. Here's how it all happened.
Claudine Georgette Longet was born on January 29, 1942 in Paris, France. Her father was an industrialist whose expertise was x-ray technology. Her mother was a doctor. There was a younger sibling too, a sister named Danielle Longet.. As a teenager, Claudine became a show dancer. At the age of 18, she went to the United States to seek fame, fortune and the elusive American Dream. She was hired by famed nightclub impresario Lou Walters (father of Barbara), who had noticed her on French television.
Claudine began her career as a Las Vegas show girl, the lead dancer of the Folies Bergère revue at the Tropicana Resort and Casino. In 1960, she met crooner Andy Williams in Sin City while they were both performing there. The pair used to relate a romantic tale about how Andy, who was passing by in his limousine, spotted Claudine on the Vegas Strip, at the side of the road. He pulled over to help her with some car trouble and found himself smitten with the petite French brunette. The story, however, may be apocryphal. Robert Chalmers in his May 2013 article in GQ magazine ("Claudine Longet: Aspen's Femme Fatale.") writes that it seems more likely that they first met while she was dancing at the Tropicana casino.
Andy and Claudine married on December 15, 1961 in Los Angeles California when Claudine was 19 years old Williams was 34. They had three children: daughter Noëlle (born on September 24, 1963), and sons Christian (born on April 15, 1965) and Robert ("Bobby") (born on August 1, 1969). Their youngest child was named after Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968. Andy and Claudine were close friends with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy. In fact, they were at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. on the night Bobby was shot and Andy sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at his funeral Mass at St.. Patrick's Cathedral.
|Claudine and Andy and their three children|
During the 1960s, Claudine Longet appeared in a number of popular TV shows. Her first acting roles on television were in two 1963 episodes of the sitcom McHales's Navy. She also appeared on Dr. Kildare (1963), McHale's Navy (1964), Mr. Novak (1965), 12 O'Clock High (1965) (1966), Hogan's Heroes (1966), The Rat Patrol (1966) (1967), Combat! (1964) (1967) and The F.B.I. (1969).
In 1966, Claudine appeared as a guest star on the NBC television adventure series Run for Your Life, starring Ben Gazzara. She played Nicole in an episode entitled "The Sadness of a Happy Time" (Season 1, Episode 30, Air Date: May 16, 1966). In the episode, she sang a bilingual version of the bossa nova song "Meditation" (English and French) and was subsequently signed to a contract by Herb Alpert's A&M Records. She recorded five albums under that label between 1966 and 1970.
Claudine had the lead female role in director Blake Edwards' classic 1968 comedy The Party. She portrayed Hollywood starlet Michele Monet in the film, opposite co-star Peter Sellers. Sellers played a bumbling Indian actor who, due to a clerical error, is mistakenly invited to an exclusive Hollywood party, instead of being fired.
|Claudine Longet in The Party|
In the 1970's, Longet landed some more television guest roles on Love, American Style (1970), Alias Smith and Jones (1971) and the Streets of San Francisco (1973). Her last television acting role was as Marie Antoinette in the 1975 TV movie The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond.
In 1971, Claudine signed a contract with Barnaby Records, Andy Williams' label. She released some singles and two albums (We've Only Just Begun and Let's Spend the Night Together) for the company.
In his 2010 book, Aspen Terminus, author Fabrice Gaogmault writes that "Claudine Longet succeeded in doing what no French woman singer since Edith Piaf had done: selling records in the United States"
After a lengthy separation (about five years), Claudine Longet and Andy Williams divorced in 1975. Nevertheless, they remained the best of friends. She even continued to perform with him on his annual Andy Williams Christmas television special.
In 1972, Claudine met Spider Sabich at a celebrity ski tournament in Bear Valley, California. Sabich had competed for the U.S. alpine ski team at the 1968 Winter Olympics and was the pro ski racing champion in 1971 and 1972. The grandson of Croation immigrants, Spider was blond and athletic, a carefree bachelor who enjoyed the party scene in Aspen.
The French chaunteuse and her California-born Golden Boy quickly became an item. They set up housekeeping in Aspen, Colorado, at Spider's luxury chalet and Claudine became a leading socialite in the high-living community, The couple resided in the posh Starwood complex, near Spider's friend, singer John Denver.
|Claudine with Spider Sabich|
Everything looked rosy for Claudine - until it all came crashing down one horrible Sunday afternoon. On March 21, 1976, police were summoned to the home that Sabich shared with Longet and her three children. Spider's blood was all over the floor of the chalet's bathroom, The 31-year-old skier had been shot in the stomach with an imitation World War II model Luger pistol, purchased by Spider's father in Grenoble, France. A single bullet had been discharged at close range from the .22 calibre pistol in Longet's hand. Police confiscated the gun and some papers, including Claudine's journal (The contents of the diary were later ruled inadmissible as evidence because the diary had been confiscated without the proper warrant).
The Pitkin County sheriffs made another procedural error that was beneficial to Claudine's defence. They took a blood sample from Claudine with a warrant. Prosecutors later argued that the sample showed evidence of cocaine in her blood and that the diaries belied Claudine's contention that her relationship with Spider had not soured. There was speculation that Spider had been feeling tied down by Claudine and the children and that they had cramped his bachelor lifestyle. According to People magazine (April 5, 1976), it was widely reported in Starwood that he had asked her to move out by April 1st.
Spider Sabich died in an ambulance en route to Aspen Valley Hospital. Claudine, 34, was arrested and charged with reckless manslaughter. She admitted to holding the gun when it killed Sabich but insisted that the weapon went off by accident. Through it all, Andy Williams was very supportive of his ex-wife. He staunchly defended her in the press and accompanied her to court proceedings. At her trial, Claudine, who had been seen on that tragic day at a local pub with friends, claimed that the gun had accidentally discharged while Sabich was showing her how it worked.
Claudine's trial was a media sensation. Press from all over the world descended upon Aspen, Colorado. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who was a resident of Aspen at the time, said that the trial was "like fouling your own nest." In a deposition, Claudine's daughter, 12 year-old Noëlle affirmed that her younger brothers were sledging when the tragic incident occurred. She stated that she heard Sabich shout "Claudine! Claudine!" and witnessed her mother calling 911.
Since prosecutors were unable to refer to the inadmissible evidence, they focused on the autopsy report instead. They contended that when Sabich was shot he was bent over, facing away, and at least 1.80 m (6 ft) from Longet, which would not be consistent with the position of somone demonstrating how a firearm works.
On January 31, 1977, a jury rendered its verdict in the case of Claudine Longet. Claudine was found not guilty of reckless manslaughter, but of the lesser charge of criminal negligence. An Associated Press (AP) account of the outcome. reported that Claudine begged District Court Judge George Lohr for mercy as the mother of three young children. Clad in a flowered mindress, Longet pleaded with the judge to spare her offspring the stigma of having their mother imprisoned. She argued that they would become resentful "against a system the would send the mother "they trust and believe in" to jail.
Judge Lohr said that although he felt compassion for Claudine and her children, "releasing her on probation without a jail sentence" might weaken respect for the law. Longet was sentenced her to thirty days in Aspen's Pitkin County Jail at a time of her choosing, provided it was before September. The judge also put her on two years' probation and fined her $25 to defray the costs of the probation report. On April 18, 1977, she entered the county jail and began serving her sentence.
Claudine may have received a light penalty from the judge, but she did not fare well in the court of public opinion. Many regarded her as as a femme fatale who got away with murder. There was a great deal of animosity toward her because Spider Sabich was regarded as an American hero, The animosity only increased when Claudine began a relationship with her defence co-attorney, Ronald D Austin, was married with two children at the time of her trial.
Below is a photo of Claudine and Austin arriving at the Pitkin County Courthouse at the time of her trial (July 1, 1976).
Judge Lohr's prophecy seems to have come true. Robert Chalmers, in his 2013 article in GQ magazine, writes that a source told him that, all these years later, Claudine is "still widely detested" in Aspen. Over 40 years later, the tragedy has not been forgotten.
In 1978, Claudine signed a confidentiality agreement with Sabich's parents after they agreed to drop a civil suit against her. She is prohibited from ever telling or writing her story. However, according to the Chalmers piece in GQ, Spider's friend, Bobbie Beattie, former coach of the U.S. ski team, believes that Claudine actually meant to scare Spider, not to murder him.
On June 1, 1985, Claudine married her defence co-attorney, Ron Austin. She and Austin live in Aspen in a house on Red Mountain. On May 3, 1991, Andy wed Debbie Haas, a hotel executive about 30 years his junior.
According to the website of the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center in Branson, Missouri, Andy visited his friend Ray Stevens in Branson in 1991. Ray had just opened a theatre in the growing country music and entertainment locale. Andy was so impressed by the town that he opened his own theatre in Branson, named after his signature song. Thus, the $12 million Andy Williams Moon River Theatre opened its doors on May 1, 1992, two days shy of his and Debbie's first wedding anniversary.
In an August 2000 interview on CNN's Larry King Live, Larry asked Andy how Claudine was doing. Not surprisingly, he was rather tight-lipped on the subject. He only said that she was "very good" and that she she still lived in Aspen. He denied that there was any bitterness between them and claimed that they were "still very good friends."
On September 25, 2012, after a year-long battle with bladder cancer, Andy Williams died at his home in Branson, Missouri. He was 84 years old at the time of his passing.
On January 24, 1977, Claudine Longet appeared on the cover of People Weekly magazine's first cover involving a criminal case.
*Claudine and ex-husband Andy Williams attended Spider Sabich's memorial service in Aspen.
* Mick Jagger composed a song about the Longet case entitled "Claudine." The song contains provocative lyrics and was supposed to be included in The Rolling Stones' 1980 album, Emotional Rescue album. Due to legal pressure, the group dropped the song before their album was released. It was, however, included in some bootleg Rolling Stones albums. In 2011, the "Claudine" was included in a deluxe edition reissue of Some Girls. It has lines such as "Now only Spider knows for sure but he ain't talkin' about it anymore, is he Claudine? An April 24, 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live featured a skit entitled 'The Claudine Longet Invitational" in which male skiers were "accidentally" shot by Claudine at the end of a slalom race. The producers of SNL issued an apology when threatened with legal action.
* In 2003, Claudine spoke to the press for an A&E television documentary on Andy Williams. Her remarks were broadcast over still photographs.
* Now 74 years old (She turns 75 on January 29th), Claudine Longet has not performed publicly since that 1976 tragedy.
Sources: GQ magazine, People magazine, Associated Press, CNN transcripts
The rich receive different justice than the rest of us.ReplyDelete
I agree with that completely. Even the cops handled this with kid gloves.Delete
i should be able to tell a judge i want 20 days in jail right? and it aint even murder!!!Delete
Whatever really happened remains a secret locked tightly away in Ms. Longet's heart. Be it cold blooded murder, or an accident as she always maintained, the incident haunted her forever after, and effectively ended her career in show business.ReplyDelete
I worked with Claudine and she is a. wonderful person.ReplyDelete
Right.! She's just a murderer and a user.Delete
she should never have left andy i was enamored with them. she had it all.Delete
She is a talented actress, so sorry for all she had been through. Good Bless and keep you Claudine.ReplyDelete
but its okay to get mad and shoot someone??Delete
I am with the people of Aspen. The gun was lost and tempered with and the diary was a contradiction to her comments " they were in love ". He was dumping her and that was no accident. The gun had jammed and she kept pulling the trigger. There was one bullet in it and Spider got it in the back, standing about 6 feet away from her. Some accident ! She murdered an innocent man.ReplyDelete
A man who would shack up with a woman with children and then dispose of her is not innocent. You don't mess with people like that.Delete
That's weird that you think it's ok to murder a young man because he moved on. Not nice, but maybe she's not all that easy to be with. Certainly not deserving of murder; get over it!Delete
She died at age 78.ReplyDelete
There seems to be some confusion about her name..Reports of her death called her "Christine"...ReplyDelete
I have not been able to find any reports of Claudine Longet's death online. Is this false information or are reports of her death being withheld? I cannot acknowledge her death until it is confirmed. What is going on here? Is this a hoax or do you have inside information?ReplyDelete
According to Wikipedia, she is still alive.ReplyDelete
I produced 6 TV shows with Claudine as the guest star. She was an incredibly wonderful person, hugely charismatic, very talented, and irresistible. She was not a killer. I deeply below her version of the events. I hope she is well and happy.ReplyDelete
She shot a person, he died. How is she not a killer..?Delete
We'll never know the Truth, only Claudine and former mate Andy Williams know, and he has passed . Have read some articles that she was a bit of a Diva in that she preferred much attention devoted to her, and at a Drinking Establishment when Spider wasn't paying her enough attention she hurled a wine glass at him . Those around the couple back in the day have commented that she was indeed a person who desired much attention . That she has spent the rest of her life away from the public eye in Aspen, a town that despises her , is interesting to me, I would have vacated Aspen to parts unkownReplyDelete
How hilarious when people think she’s talented, anyone can whisper a song. Her fame was due to her riding on Andy Williams coattails. No one in the US knew who she was before she hooked up with Williams. I’ve read a couple of books about the murder and that’s exactly what it was. Spider was done with her and wanted her out, they were barely on speaking terms when she shot him. This was stated by his family and close friends that knew the couple very well. She was demanding of Spyder’s time and jealous of the young “snow bunnies “ that were prevalent in Aspen. He was tired of her and the “ family “ life, he wanted to be free. She was furious that she couldn’t seduce him anymore. His family firmly believes that she murdered him because she couldn’t have him anymore. A self serving scheming tramp. The comments about her being so wonderful were probably made by males thinking with their little head. Lol.&ReplyDelete
She had a career dancing in Paris before she married Andy WilliamsDelete
Claudine was no saint. She married Andy Williams, left him, took her 3 young children. Andy was heartbroken. She took up with a handsome, young, superstar atlete skiier. She lived with him and her young children. When he didnt want that lifestyle anymore Claudine was angry and jealous. She pulled the trigger and killed him on purpose. It was no accident. Watching the Any Williams Christmas special shes sitting there singing Christmas songs like shes all sweet and innocent. She wouldnt have had the money for the defense if it were not for the jilted Andy Williams, who stuck by the mother of his children. He didnt want her to go to jail because of their children. She was coked up and was not thinking rationally. the documentary I saw said she was drinking earlier that day in a bar.ReplyDelete
It's not an "accident" when a witness, (her oldest daughter) claimed in court that Spider yelled "Claudine, Claudine" before she shot him. Doesn't sound like he was 'showing her how the gun worked' if that testimony was true.ReplyDelete
That's such a tragedy, she got away with murder but she has a worse prison and it's her conscious, and life effected forever and being shunned by many. My heart goes out to all involved.ReplyDelete
I guess that in today's political atmosphere, you can just make things up and they become fact. Amazing. Anyone who actually knew Claudine and Danielle, knew the soft, unassuming person she was. Danielle managed Andy's Aspen Ski Lodge and Claudine remained quite close to Andy. The people in Aspen who actually knew them, did not "despise" her frankly. BS is BS. Fortunately, she and Ron are still together at 80. So much for the "Diva" label.ReplyDelete
French showgirl has enough talent to take Paris...but she instead craves fame in the USA (mistake #1);ReplyDelete
33 Year old Mormon bachelor, on the eve of his skyrocketing fame, serendipitously meets, is smitten with - and quickly marries - the sexy, ambitious, half-crazy French stranger who is 15years his junior (mistake #2);
After a brief Marriage and 3 small children, she divorces him, and takes his 3 children (that she somehow got legal custody of...?), into the life & home of young, world famous, gorgeous, high testosteroned athlete whom every woman in town secretly pined for, evidently (mistake #3).
Yet one day Showgirl's famous fling decides not to propose marriage.. His "aha moment" warns him that he really needs to separate from the burdensome over crowding in his young life. Though he is mildly aware the showgirl is half-crazy ...he is overly confident that she is not also dangerous to him (mistake #4 prooves lethal).....
So the showgirl, now with a police record, marries her renowned defense attorney, (the best talent that her ex-husbands money could provide for her....)but the defense attorney surprises her with an ADDITIONAL offer that she cannot refuse: freedom from prison in exchange for slavery to him.
Like the George Sanders character in the film "All About Eve"...the defense attorney quietly reads her the riot act, and concludes: "you belong to ME now, you understand that, don't you?"
The trapped showgirl sobs, furiously... for a minute or two...
And then they live quietly ever after. The End.