The fire department was first to arrive at actor Marlon Brando's mountaintop mansion in the Hollywood Hills and was met with what seemed to be a normal family scene – a guy lying on the couch appearing to channel surf. Except he wasn’t. The TV was flipping channels all by itself. And the man was dead, a single bullet hole just below his left cheekbone.
The police arrived shortly afterward, and Brando’s then-32-year-old son, Christian, by his ex-wife Anna Kashfi, explained that it had all been a terrible accident. Apparently, his half-sister Cheyenne had told him that evening, May 16, 1990, that Dag Drollet – Cheyenne’s Tahitian boyfriend and father of her unborn child – had been assaulting her. Angry and upset, Christian said he confronted Drollet with a .45-caliber handgun in an attempt to shake him up. But something went wrong when Drollet attempted to wrestle the gun away from Christian, and it went off in Drollet’s face.
Police arrested Christian on the spot, but not before confiscating his arsenal of weapons, which included a .44-caliber carbine, a shotgun, a MAC-10 machine pistol, an M-14 assault rifle and what they thought was a silencer.
His father didn’t help matters with his comments to police, who quoted him as saying that Christian “always had a very bad temper and could be explosively violent when angry.”
Two days after his arrest, Christian was arraigned on the charge of first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty. Civil rights attorney William Kunstler pleaded for Christian’s release on bail, even producing a letter in support from the family’s neighbor, Jack Nicholson.
But Deputy District Attorney Steven Barshop refused. He believed that Drollet’s killing was clearly a premeditated murder, especially because the angle of the wound suggested that he had been shot from above rather than in a struggle.
No one witnessed the crime, although Cheyenne, Marlon and his common-law wife, Tarita Teriipaia, were in the house at the time of the shooting. But Cheyenne would be a key witness in the trial. If Drollet really had physically abused his heavily pregnant girlfriend, then maybe people could understand Christian’s rage that fateful night. It would be viewed as a crime of passion, just siblings trying to protect each other.
But LAPD Detective Andrew Monsue was confident that Drollet hadn’t even laid a finger on Cheyenne. “There was no abuse ever involved,” he asserted. Even Cheyenne’s father didn’t believe that Drollet had abused her, but he did concede that she had “psychological problems.”
Cheyenne herself told the police that the shooting was “not an accident. It was murder.” So it was no surprise that the prosecution was looking to her as an important witness. If his own sister wasn’t prepared to protect him on the witness stand, the prosecution figured they had a very strong case.
But after numerous attempts to serve her with papers naming her a material witness, Cheyenne flew to Tahiti. A few days later, she gave birth to her son, Tuki. Prosecutors felt she ran so she wouldn’t have to testify, but days later she was in a psychiatric hospital. Two suicide attempts later, a judge declared her “mentally disabled,” meaning she was no longer able to testify at her brother’s trial.
For Christian’s attorney, Brando hired Robert Shapiro, later to become a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team. Once it was established that Cheyenne would not be testifying, the murder case collapsed. Christian eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter, plus gun charges. He was sentenced to 10 years.
Brando was shocked at the length of the sentence. He blamed himself for the whole affair and at Christian’s sentencing hearing, he wept openly. Brando said that had he been a better parent, the tragedy might never have happened.
After The Tragedy
The shooting was to haunt the Brando family for the rest of their lives...
Christian was released on parole from California Men’s Colony, a state prison in San Luis Obispo, in 1996, after serving less than five years of his 10-year sentence.
Christian lived a quiet life until actor Robert Blake’s wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, was murdered in 2001 in Los Angeles. Blake turned the attention to Christian, claiming that he had been having an affair with Bakley and had made threats against her. However, Christian was never charged with the crime because he was not in Los Angeles at the time of the murder.
In 2005, he made headlines again when his wife, Deborah Presley, accused him of spousal abuse. Christian pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years probation. In January 2008, at age 49, Christian died of pneumonia.
By 1995, Cheyenne had moved back to the home of her mother, Tarita Teriipaia, in Tahiti. Cheyenne lived in seclusion for some months, and friends say she had been permanently depressed since the shooting.
Then one Sunday in April 1995, Cheyenne found herself alone in the house while her mom attended church and her brother Tehotu went out on an errand. She rigged a rope to a beam in her bedroom ceiling, climbed onto a chair, put the noose around her neck and kicked away the support. She was just 25 years old. Cheyenne was buried in the Drollet family vault in Papeete, Tahiti.
Because of his mother Cheyenne’s drug habit, which included LSD and ecstasy, Tuki was sent to detox at birth. Before Cheyenne’s death, a Tahitian judge ruled that because of her depression, Tuki was to be placed in the care of Cheyenne’s mother, Tarita. However, after Cheyenne’s suicide, Tuki was raised by Drollet’s parents in Tahiti. Today Tuki is 31 years old and works as a model.
Tarita, now 80, was Brando’s third wife. They were married for 10 years after meeting on the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1966, Brando bought Tarita an atoll of tiny islands near Tahiti, and later he built a rustic hotel there. In 2004, Tarita published a memoir titled Marlon, My Love, My Suffering, which shed light on Marlon’s troubled life and the suicide of their daughter, Cheyenne.
In 1958, Anna left Brando after just one year of matrimony and fought a 16-year custody battle over Christian, although various reports indicate that Anna was a less than ideal mother. Once the child was discovered standing alone at the edge of the swimming pool while his mother was inside the house, passed out and lying in her own vomit. Anna died in 2015 at age 80.
After the tragedy, Marlon went on to star in a handful of movies, including Don Juan DeMarco, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Brave, Free Money and The Score. On July 1, 2004, at the UCLA Medical Center, Marlon died of respiratory failure from pulmonary fibrosis with congestive heart failure. He was 80.