Drew Turney remembers an old school Hollywood player who partied so hard he departed…
In an industry where the consumption of everything from controlled substances to people’s souls is de rigeur it’s hard to stand out, but producer Don Simpson turned himself into the poster boy for voracious excess.
By all accounts ultra-competitive and macho to a fault but crushingly insecure, few of Simpson’s specific exploits are public record except for those whispered over power lunches or dug up by enterprising journalists. Hollywood protects its own, and with then-partner Jerry Bruckheimer (still one of the most successful producers in history), Simpson rebooted the movie industry to capitalise on a new audience of MTV-savvy teens who responded to multiple cuts, cool rock music and style over substance.
In doing so, the duo filled studio coffers with US$3billion over the course of their partnership, producing 80s classics like Top Gun, Flashdance and Beverley Hills Cop, siphoning story out of film and filling the vacuum with wall-to-wall marketing concept.
So while laying one golden egg after another, The System wasn’t about to give Simpson up to public scrutiny for his behaviour. You name it — hookers, drugs, food, parties — Simpson overindulged to a degree that shocked even his notorious peers.
Returning their investment in him many times over, he was on an endless meal ticket with Paramount Pictures and life was a never-ending party. After hatching their high concept ideas, Bruckheimer oversaw the technicalities of production while Simpson lived the high life on location everywhere from Daytona Beach, Florida (Days of Thunder) to San Diego (Top Gun) and beyond. His brash, blokey appetites and the curious bubble of Hollywood power where one never needs to hear the word ‘no’ were a wicked and lethal combination.
Just like pantsmen from Errol Flynn to self-confessed sex addict Michael Douglas, Simpson went through sexual conquests like most of us change underwear. Interviewing personal and household assistants, he matter-of-factly told applicants sex with him was a likely part of the job description. He was on a first name basis with every major Hollywood madam from the 70s onward, Heidi Fleiss calling him ‘not just a customer but a close friend’. Sexual harassment claims swirled around him like the starlets it’s alleged he frequently abused.
A rare public outing of his predilections was a book written by a former working girl who outlined a particularly seedy BDSM session involving two prostitutes, black leather, an oversized dildo and Simpson’s toilet bowl.
His other great love — and undoing — was drugs. In the 1980s, the rich and hip differentiated themselves from the masses (for whom pot was cheaper and more popular) by using the far-sexier cocaine, and Hollywood both entered and left the decade on a white, powdery cloud with Simpson among its most insatiable users.
His chemical dependency also extended to what an LAPD detective investigating prescription drug fraud estimated at more than US$60,000 a month worth of at least 10 medications, many of them to offset side affects from each other. The investigation overturned prescriptions in nearly a dozen false names — all of them allegedly Simpson.
Besides fraternisations with characters from Hollywood’s shadows — such as Anthony Pellicano, the PI recently in the news (and the slammer) for illegal wiretapping and racketeering, some of Simpson’s excesses were simply funny — particularly his weakness as a gastronome.
He had a refrigerator installed close to his bedroom containing microwave pizza and hamburgers for late night binges. He broke out of his many rehab stays to make for the nearest strip bar, climbing the walls for need of beer and breasts, even sneaking late night pizza deliveries into the many celebrity clinics trying to get him off drugs, off alcohol or slimmed down — an obsession with staying young and good looking that extended to plastic surgery addiction.
And on his last night alive, screenwriter James Toback recalled that towards the end of their three-hour phone conversation, Simpson had been ‘drinking wine and guzzling peanut butter’. Before going to bed in the early morning of January 9, 1996, Simpson sat down on his toilet to read an Oliver Stone biography and his heart beat its last.
At the age of 53, this last of a dying breed had hoovered up so many legal (albeit over-consumed) and narcotic drugs it’s a miracle he lasted as long as he did. But of the parties he was famous for, the virtual orgy of his life and the generosity, genius, demons and despair friends characterised him with, Simpson himself said it best; ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. It’s not enough until it’s too much. Because how do you know it’s enough until it’s too much? That’s the only way to find out.’