Waxing Nostalgic Over Classic TV

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Really Happened to Diane Linkletter?

The beautiful young woman who jumped out of her sixth-floor apartment window at 9 am on October 4, 1969 had no way of knowing that her death was destined to become a focal point of the anti-drug movement in America.

Diane Linkletter was the 20-year-old daughter of Art Linkletter, the prominent radio and TV personality. Before an autopsy had even been performed, her famous father claimed to the media that she had taken LSD the night before her death. (Linkletter had not talked to his daughter before her death, but maintains that she had told her brother Robert that she had taken the acid.) He was quoted as saying, "It isn't suicide because she wasn't herself. She was murdered. She was murdered by the people who manufacture and sell LSD."

When the autopsy showed no signs of drugs in her system, he changed his story to claim that she was suffering an LSD flashback from months earlier and that had caused her to jump out the window.

The media, of course, ran with the story, and used Art Linkletter's claims to create the narrative, without doing much investigating of their own. By the time the dust had settled, the story had been transformed in most people's minds to reflect an old urban legend about a girl, high on LSD, who jumped out her window because she thought she could fly.

A much more accurate picture of what happened can be gleaned by examining the testimony of Diane's boyfriend, Edward Durston, who was present when she died. Diane had summoned him to her apartment at 3am and had spent the final six hours of her life with him. He told investigators that she was a desperately unhappy and despondent young woman who was determined to end her life. He had no reason to believe, and she had not indicated, that drugs were a factor in her death.

Art Linkletter, understandably devastated, became one of the most vocal critics of the counterculture, speaking out against drugs at every opportunity, while telling the tale of his daughter's LSD death. Dr. Timothy Leary, the LSD guru who had urged young people to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," became his archenemy.

In this fascinating video from 1980, Leary is surprised on an interview show with a call from Linkletter. Listening to him scream at Leary that "he hoped he had died, he hoped he had been hung" was a little disconcerting coming from someone whose public persona was that of the kindly father.

Did Art Linkletter truly believe that his daughter's death was caused by LSD or was it easier for him to view it through that prism? Did it make his burden easier to bear, believing that an outside force of some kind was responsible, and not any negligence on his part?

One thing is for certain. The story lodged itself in the public's consciousness and helped to fuel the anti-drug sentiments that led Richard Nixon to declare a "War on Drugs" in 1971, a seemingly unending battle that has strained our prison system and drained the nation of valuable resources.

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