Don Simpson: How Hollywood Killed California's Narcotics King

Don Simpson holds a dubious, posthumous record in LA. The hugely successful movie producer who was behind such celluloid hits as Beverley Hills Cop and and Top Gun was found dead at his apartment in 1996, aged 52. When doctors performed an autopsy they were astonished to find 21 different illegal substances in his body. To this day, his body was the most toxic ever examined in the state of California.
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To those who knew Simpson well it was hardly a surprise, after all his pride and joy was not a Porsche, or a mansion but a huge medicine cabinet he kept under lock and key. Inside was a stash of 15,000 pills. Amphetamines, painkillers and every other type of psychotropic pill, which he would take daily. It would earn him the nickname of 'the beast' but Simpson wasn't just a drug addict, he was a hugely successful one. A major Hollywood player he worked his way up from humble beginnings. First as a writer ( the movie Cannonball ), then onto Paramount where he worked as head of production. It was in 1981 however, when he left Paramount that he was to form a partnership with another producer Jerry Bruckheimer and strike pure gold.

The Bruckheimer/Simpson partnership was never the creative heart of 1980's Hollywood but it was its mainline. They were notorious for their fast paced and adrenaline-fuelled films. Vapid movies like a line of cocaine off an expensive mirror, they were instant hits the world over. They rolled out like cash cows, creating the age of the franchise and grossing a staggering 3 billion dollars worldwide. For Bruckheimer, an aged pessimist, the success of the films brought him a validity in a movie business he recognised as extremely fragile: 'every time I make a movie I think it's going to be my last one. That no one will turn up,' he'd once remarked to an interviewer. For Simpson however, the success simply bought him vast amounts of cocaine, which he hoovered up with bravado and the confidence of a man who seemingly couldn't put a foot wrong in the industry.

It was his heavyweight Cocaine addiction in fact that would first cause a hairline fracture between the two. Seeking help from a dubious physician and friend called Stephen Ammerman, Simpson was advised that to curb his addiction he needed to undergo a programme containing morphine intake and other strong painkillers. It was terrible advice and set Simpson on the road of prescription drugs. Ironically, some years later, Ammerman was found dead at Simpsons mansion from an overdose on the type of drugs he'd advised in the first place.

Stuck in a cycle of addiction, Simpson's behaviour now became more erratic and his binging grew worse. Now rarely leaving his mansion, he would call up terrified scriptwriters and demand they drive over to his home and make changes to the films they were working on. The sight of an amphetamine-fuelled Simpson, bouncing off the walls as they nervously typed away in the corner must have filled them with dread. The producer's moods could be intense and dark by then, as were his recreational activities. He was rumoured to be heavily into the S&M scene and would regularly pay prostitutes to carry out his fantasies. His self-esteem became an issue too. He would worry about whether the prostitutes actually liked him. 'Of course they like you,' a friend would tell him. 'You're fucking paying them.'

For Don Simpson, however, nothing was ever that black and white. After a string of non hits in the early nineties (including, hilariously, one for Disney), his reputation began to lessen with the studio executives, who were paying him vast amounts of money. Whilst Bruckheimer was still defensive of his partner in public, privately even he was growing tired of Simpson's hedonistic lifestyle. Although they were still coming up with regular films at the time, their golden touch was deserting them. They had minor hits in the preceding years but nothing major. Their last film together, in 1995 ('the Rock'), was fraught with tension too. Although it was officially credited as a  Bruckheimer/Simpson production, in truth Simpson had little to do with it. He was too far gone by then, lost in a whirlwind of narcotics and madness that most people knew he couldn't escape from.

He didn't and his dead body was discovered at his home on January 19th 1996. It was estimated he was spending 60,000 dollars a month on drugs and his outgoings for cocaine were over 3 million dollars. His funeral a few weeks later was attended by luminaries of the Hollywood film industry. They were probably thankful he wasn't cremated.