The anniversary of someone’s death is never a fun subject to deal with no matter who it is. However, since this blog is dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of Lee Marvin, deal with it I must. To put it bluntly, on August 29th, 1987, Lee Marvin passed into eternity at the premature of sixty-three.
I have of course blogged about it previously, in fact pretty much every year this blog has been in existence (here, here, and here for example) I’m not a fan of such as things as I’d much rather celebrate the man’s life, not his passing, as I said. Be that as it may, it must be done and that’s when I realized, I actually hadn’t written about my own memory of his passing. Well, this being the anniversary of his death, here it is.
I was working in New Jersey as a waiter at the Sandalwood Inn Restuarant which was connected to the Holiday Inn — Exit 8A off the Jersey Turnpike, if you’re in the neighborhood. Anyway, I was just about to start my shift when the bartender gave me a copy of the Trenton Times to peruse. She then asked, “Aren’t you a Lee Marvin fan?” The paper was open this particular page…

Page of the Trenton Times heralding the passing of Lee Marvin.

I find it interesting that for reasons I still don’t recall that after all these years, I’ve still kept that particular clipping that informed me of this death. Keep in mind, this is almost a decade before I started work on the book.
My thoughts of his passing? I was saddened by it but not as much as I was by the passing of say, Steve McQueen or John Lennon several years prior and a mere month apart.
It did stay with me and certainly resonated. Once I later took on the project, I quickly discovered the effect his passing had on some folks, especially those closet to him, such as Mitch Ryan, Ralph O’Hara, first wife Betty Marvin and son Christopher. The stories they told had me empathizing with their loss in a way I never had before, especially Ralph O’Hara. I won’t repeat the poignancy of their loss, except to say you can read their accounts in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
I still wonder why I kept that clipping. Foreshadowing? Perhaps. I do know one thing for sure. he left us way too soon. It’s cliche’ but true: So long Lee. We hardly knew ya.
– Dwayne Epstein

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I’ve always been amazed by some of the people willing to talk to me about their experiences when I was researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, and one of the best was Ralph O’Hara. To this day I don’t remember how I was able to get in contact with him but once I did and we met in that park in Malibu near the Sand Castle, he proved to be one of the best sources of information imaginable. He was not well-known but his knowledge of, insight to and experience with Lee Marvin was incalcuable. Readers will attest to his poignant retelling of Marvin’s last days, the actor’s humorous flirtations with Angie Dickinson and his brilliant insignt into Marvin’s undiagnosed PTSD.

Ralph's own caption for this picture he had recently sent me: "Taken 1/16/94  Day before the Northridge Quake....I'll get back to you as soon as I finish reading your book."....And he did!

Ralph’s own caption for this picture he had recently sent me: “Taken 1/16/94 Day before the Northridge Quake….I’ll get back to you as soon as I finish reading your book.”….And he did!

Well, through this blog a kind neighbor of his in Florida informed me that Ralph passed away on March 11th of this year. A few weeks before I had recieved a letter from Ralph in which he joked a bit but also told me his was in failing health but still punching. I’m so, so glad I was able to reconnect with him all these years later before it was too late. He was a rascal, to be sure, but the best of them usually are. So, here’s to you, Ralph, Bartender extraordinaire and storyteller Supreme. We shall not see your kind pass this way any again any time soon.

In tribute to his memory,  allow me to share this excerpt of my orginal interview with him (from Dec, ’95) that didn’t go in the book but explains how he first met Lee Marvin. It’s classic O’Hara…..
Dwayne Epstein: Do you recall when you first met Lee Marvin?
Ralph Epstein: I met Lee in the fifties. I met him in the bars. I don’t remember the name of it. Anyway, how I met him was he was getting up to leave as I came in to sit down. When he stood up, he and I were almost the same size at that time. He looked me straight up and down like this.. Then he looked at the bartender and said, “You better pick up your two dollars. This guy’s getting ready to sit down.” (I laugh) I said, “Fuck you, too.” You know? What is this, gonna steal two dollars? So, he walked by me. I went and sat down. Then the bartender, there was two dollars and ten cents there. So he picked up the two dollars and stuck it in his pocket. He picked up the dime and threw it over his shoulder. he said, “What do you want?” I said, “Give me an Old Fitz and water, tall.” I drank hard bourbon in those days. Old Fitzgerald is a sour mash bourbon. What I was doing, I would order a shot of bourbon, shot of Old Fitz on the side, I’d wash it down with a bourbon and water. then they quit making Old Fitz. That disturbed me…Okay the bartender flipped the dime over his shoulder, yeah, and Lee walked out the door. He left. That was the first time I ever met him.
Dwayne: Incredible memory if you could remeber a passing moment like that.
Ralph: The reason I remembered is because of what he said to me. He just stood there and looked me up and down like this. By his judgment, I was going to sit down and steal the two dollars he left as a tip.
Dwayne: Yeah he loved to do that, shock people.
Ralph: I was a little strange myself. In those days..I’ll tell you a little story about place called the Marquee up on Sunset. The Garden of Allah and all those toilets were up there. Ciro’s, the Interlude, all them places. I used to go in there and sit down with John Coltrane, Miles Davis and all these people. A freind of mine was their dope connection and sold them bennies. They would take turns doing solos and get off the stage. They’d come and sit down with us and drop a few bennies. We had the bennies, 50,000 that my friend would buy at once. Anyway, I got off of a bar stool to let a woman sit down. She was gorgeous….

Dwayne: Okay, you told me your first run-in with Lee Marvin. When did you start seeing him on a regular basis?
Ralph: I would start seeing him once I started tending bar. I worked at a place right across the street from Universal Studios. They used to come when they were shooting. This is how I started to make more and more contact. He treated me different. He talked to me different. …….

If blog readers enjoyed this little excerpt, let me know and I’ll include some more. In the meantime, God’s Speed Ralph and lots of rest. You’ve earned it.

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It doesn’t seem possible but on this day in 1987, Lee Marvin passed away at the premature age of 63. I’m often asked if I ever met him but since I began the project in 1994  I missed out on that possibility by a number of years. Writing about the end of life and his final days proved quite a challenge, as one would imagine. Luckily, I was able to speak with seveal people close to the actor at the end of his life, incldudng son Christopher, good friend Ralh O’Hara and Marvin’s Monte Walsh co-star, Mitch Ryan who visited Marvin in the hopsital the day he died. The end result was a different, detailed, and largely overlooked version of his passing then what was reported in the media at the time. Lee Marvin Point Blank’s firsthand account of the actor’s death differs from say, the article below, published in the now defunct L.A. Herald-Examiner in both major and minor ways…




Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank may have noticed some minor discrepancies in the above obituary, such as the fact that Marvin never had to pay any nominal fee to Michele Triola or that his sciatic nerve was not severed from the wound he sustained on Saipan. These are of course minor comapred to the write-up done in People Magazine a week or two later. Once again, readers will not the differences….



The tabloid-style periodical meant well but it is not known for its accuracy.

Perhaps the best way to remember the actor at the time of his passing was what he said of himself. Marvin became good friends with Dr. Harry Willner when the actor gave his Emmy-nominated performance in People Need People, based on Willner’s pioneering research with group therapy on injured veterans. Willner invited Marvin to his symposium of experts on the existence of evil. The actor was flattered and did give a brief statement at the event. As Willner writes in the intro to his book on the subject, Facing Evil, Marvin was scheduled to return, but alas, his passing made that impossible. Below is the dedication to Facing Evil…..

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