Las Vegas and Her Unfortunate Death

Dandridge sang in nightclubs as a way to re-start her career, even though she didn’t like doing it. She was shy in real life and was a woman who presented herself always as a lady. So she hated the idea of having to wear revealing dresses and sing torch songs while the men ogled her. The worst part was the racism she faced from club owners and hoteliers that wouldn’t permit her to talk to customers or use the restroom. In Las Vegas, she was advised that the swimming pool would have to be drained if she attempted to swim in it. Unlike Caucasian artists, Dandridge’s dressing room was often just a storage area and nothing more. But the exposure from singing in nightclubs paid off. In 1952, she became one of the most popular nightclub entertainers in the U.S., and the first African-American to perform at the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. It opened doors for her in Hollywood again.

Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge

However, her personal life didn’t improve. She had desperately desired to marry Preminger. When she got pregnant, Preminger left. Dorothy felt there was no option but to have an abortion. Then, in 1959 she finally married. She married Jack Denison, a white man who was universally reported to be a “gold digger.” This marriage turned out to be the worst thing that ever could have happened to her. Denison spent all her money that she had carefully saved, investing into ‘get rich quick’ schemes. Once all of the money was gone, so was he. Dorothy was bankrupt and not able to pay for the needed care of her daughter Lynn. So she was forced to put Lynn in a state hospital. All of this led her to drinking and use of anti-depressant pills. She also began to gain weight. By 1965, she had 77 creditors hounding her, and she was living in a small one-room basement studio in Hollywood. Nevertheless,  she had finally managed to secure a few nightclub engagements and a contract for 2 films in Mexico. Before she could begin, she broke her ankle. Her agent went to her apartment on September 8, 1965, to take her to have a cast put on it. When she didn’t come to the door, he entered and found her lying dead on the bathroom floor. It was ruled an acute overdose of the anti-depressant, Tofranil. She was only 42 years old.  Whether the overdose was an accident or not is still unknown.

According to Dandridge’s last wishes, as expressed in a note that was given to her agent, Earl Mills, several months before her death, her estate, or what was left of it, was to be given to her mother, Ruby. Dorothy Dandridge was cremated and her ashes buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery located in Los Angeles. Despite having worked hard, and having an extensive career, she only had $2.14 in her bank account at the end.