Bing Crosby's honey-smooth rendition of "White Christmas" gives a tender and sentimental view of the comforts of family life. But the Irving Berlin ballad must have seemed sadly mocking this holiday season to the late crooner's 51-year-old son, Lindsay, who, alone in his condo in suburban Los Angeles and beset by financial and emotional problems, put a .22 caliber rifle to his head and killed himself.
"He was the baby of us four boys and always Dad's favorite," says Gary Crosby, the eldest of Bing's sons from his first carriage. "Linny was a nice, quiet, sensitive guy." He was also mentally unstable, given to wild drinking and spending binges when he was ill.
Called "Hollywood's proudest father" by LIFE in 1940, Bing was pictured as a model husband and father to his first wife, singer Dixie Lee, and their sons, Gary, twins Phillip and Dennis, and Lind say, and later, after Dixie's death in 1952, to his second wife, Kathryn, and their three children. That image was shattered in 1983 when, six years after Bing's death Gary published a tell-all book portraying Bing as a cold disciplinarian who ridiculed his four sons and beat Gary until he drew blood.
As adults, the four floundered. In the late 1950s they formed a singing quartet, but none had inherited their dad's voice or his low-key charisma. Thanks to a monthly trust-fund income of about $10,000 each, the Crosby boys did not have to work—and they didn't. All struggled with alcoholism; all divorced. And Lindsay, a three-time loser at marriage and the father of four children, had the additional problem of being a manic-depressive.
"When he was in a depressive state, he'd put the property in my name, to protect it," says Susan Marlin Crosby, Lindsay's third wife, to whom he was wed for 24 years. "Because he knew when he was in a manic state, he would buy cars, jewelry, even houses, for these leeches and hangers-on he met at bars."
Recently, despite psychiatry and mood-stabilizing drugs, Crosby had felt himself going down. According to Susan, he owed $150,000 to $200,000, and his trust income, dependent upon nearly exhausted oil wells, was soon to be halved.
On Sunday night, Dec. 10, a deeply troubled Lindsay visited the home of his ex-wife. "He kept saying, 'I don't want to be a burden,' " says Susan. His body was found the next day. He never made it to Christmas.
Nobel-prizewinning playwright Samuel Beckett once likened his work to the ceaseless screaming of a man he had heard dying of throat cancer in a hospital. The foremost dramatist in the English-speaking world himself came to a gentler end in Paris on Dec. 22, where he died of respiratory failure at age 83. "He was totally original and a man of great courage," eulogized fellow playwright Harold Pinter. "His work knew no bounds." Beckett's 'work (including Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days) may not have known bounds, "but his characters certainly did. The Irish-born Beckett brought us hoboes, paralytics and men and women mired in trash cans or sand, all of them grappling with pain, loneliness and the emptiness of human existence in a world where God is dead and the planet may be blown up at any moment.
Beckett's private life was apparently much less grim. A year after emigrating to Paris in 1937, he met Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil moments after he was stabbed during a street brawl. Passing by on her bicycle, she stopped to help. A pianist, Suzanne became his lifelong companion, finally marrying him in 1961. She died in July, just months before Beckett began his own endgame.
If Billy Martin had had his way, he'd probably have gone in mid-scream at an umpire. Instead, Martin, 61, the once and (perennially) future manager of the New York Yankees, died Christmas Day when a truck in which he was a passenger skidded off an icy road near his upstate New York farm. (The driver, a pal of Martin's, has been charged with drunken driving.)
Martin was famous for his gutsy all-out baseball playing style known as "Billy ball"—and for his penchant for barroom fighting, dubbed "Billy brawl." The scrappy Martin spent his adult life at the ballpark, first as a second baseman for the Yankees and later as manager, guiding the Yanks to two pennants and a 1977 World Series victory. He also managed the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Oakland A's. But the public doubtless remembers him best for his barroom wrangles with everyone from his own players to a marshmallow salesman.
Martin's tavern antics got him in Dutch with Yankee boss George Steinbrenner, who hired, and fired, him five times, most recently in 1988. Now Martin's No. 1 uniform, which was retired in 1986 but called back to service when he returned in 1988, can be retired with Mantle's and Ruth's and DiMaggio's for good.