Producer Don Simpson gets to speak a single line of dialogue in Days of Thunder (1990) as one of the racing car drivers named Aldo. His part was initially much larger, but he was such a dreadful actor that even he agreed his performance would have done serious damage to the picture if it was left in. The movie bombed at the box-office anyway, but it could be argued that it might have bombed slightly quicker with him in it. Nothing lasts forever in Hollywood. Days of Thunder was the beginning of the end for Simpson. Although he and producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer would continue to churn out hits for another five years or so, their absolute autonomy vanished with this picture.
In the 1980s nobody’s films made money quite like Simpson and Bruckheimer’s did. Starting with Flashdance (1983), quickly followed by Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and then Top Gun in 1986, they could do no wrong. In 1985 and 1988 they were named ‘Producers of the Year’ by the National Association of Theater Owners for putting an awful lot of bums on seats. They were also nominated for ten Academy Awards. So what eventually went wrong?
Simpson began his meteoric rise in Tinsel Town at Paramount in 1975 as an executive. He might have stayed an executive, too, if he hadn’t succumbed to his drug problem one day and passed out at a meeting! Drug addicts don’t usually make great executives, so he slid into producing instead, teaming up with his buddy Bruckheimer in a partnership made in producing heaven. From that moment on Don Simpson sailed through the eighties and the first half of the nineties on an ocean of money and drugs.
Drugs were not his only obsession, however. Simpson also had a most bizarre sex life, enhanced by testosterone shots administered to his buttocks to increase his already enormous sex drive. Call girl Alexandra Datig wrote, in her ‘tell all’ book about Hollywood and hookers, that he regularly ‘auditioned’ struggling actresses for parts in his movies, and ‘by the end of each interview each actress ended up having sex with him’. I should add that very few established actresses fell for this, but those who did would later learn to their disgust that he had secretly videotaped their encounters as well.
Between 1988 and 1994 he underwent at least ten operations or procedures to make himself (in his eyes) more attractive to the opposite sex. These included liposuction on his belly, a buttock lift, collagen injections in his lips, cheeks and chin, a forehead lift and an eyebrow restructure. All this idiocy culminated in a series of injections of fat into his penis to make it wider, heavier and longer. These procedures were an unmitigated disaster when it became infected. An even more painful series of reversal procedures was needed, at enormous expense, to address the problem.
Simpson’s prescription drug bill exceeded $60,000 a month and he paid even more for non-prescription drugs. In a last attempt to overcome his substance problem he tried the Church of Scientology and its ‘detox’ program called the ‘Purification Rundown’, but after spending $25,000 he was still no nearer to a cure. He was told he must first attain the level of an ‘Operating Thetan’. Uh huh. If you are wondering, ‘what the hell is an ‘Operating Thetan?’, well, it goes something like this:
According to the founder of Scientology, 75 million years ago an alien named Xenu imprisoned enemy aliens inside volcanoes on Earth and then killed them. Only a prolonged series of Scientology studies (very expensive, of course) can now release these ‘Thetan spirits’ as they are called. Upon reaching the top of the Scientology pile one becomes an ‘Operating Thetan’, a super-perfect dude who makes we mere mortals look like we dropped out of a Corn Flakes packet. ‘At that point I realized it was a con’, Simpson told Premiere magazine. No flies on Don. Well, only 25,000 of them anyway.
Several well-known Hollywood celebrities are Scientologists, of course. Tom Cruise and Mimi Rogers joined when they were first a couple. Nicole Kidman did too, when she fell for Tom. Another husband and wife team that would love to become good old ‘Operating Thetans’ (if they are not so already) are John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston. Anne Archer, Kirsty Alley and Karen Black are heavily involved as well. Even Jerry Seinfeld and the late Patrick Swayze dabbled in it for a while, as did Brad Pitt when he was dating Juliette Lewis. Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa Marie are firm believers. In Hollywood, just like everywhere else, there is no shortage of suckers, it would seem.
As the nineties came marching through the dynamic duo of Simpson and Bruckheimer continued producing hit after hit. Jerry was the quiet achiever, the liaison to sets and studios, while Don was the ‘ideas man’, the ideal job for a substance abuser. In 1995 they made three box-office smashes in the one year – Bad Boys, Crimson Tide and The Rock, (which was released in 1996). But Simpson’s drug-taking was out of control. On December 20, 1995, Bruckheimer called it quits and ended their partnership. By the following January his ex-partner was dead.
Don Simpson’s corpse was found in his home, slumped over the toilet. The coroner found traces of cocaine and another twenty legal drugs in his body. Police found 2,200 prescriptions from fifteen different doctors strewn throughout his Bel Air home. The initial verdict was that he died from ‘natural causes’. Hm. Well, if you swallow copious quantities of every substance known to man, there is every chance that your body will ‘naturally’ cease to function sooner or later. Like River Phoenix, Brad Renfro, and countless others, Don Simpson died from gross stupidity. It should be so marked on their death certificates.
It was revealed after his demise that a cohort of doctors were supplying him with whatever substances he wanted, whenever he wanted them. One of these turkeys, a woman, was also employed on an around the clock suicide watch in case things went wrong. She later claimed she hated Simpson, but was happy to charge him $500 an hour to make sure he stayed alive. In spite of her selfless dedication he fired her. Five months later he was dead. Don Simpson’s approach to movie-making, probably to life in general, was made clear in an interview: ‘We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money.’ And end up being the richest man in the cemetery. Terrific.