Life Just Wasn’t Worth Living
Modern Screen’s Hollywood Yearbook, 1973
He was young (31), good looking, the star of a successful TV series (Alias Smith and Jones) and had a best gal. He had everything, in fact, except peace of mind. And the prospect of facing 1972 was simply too much for him. So, on December 31, Pete Duel picked up a gun, went into the living room, and shot himself through the head. When his girlfriend, Dianne Ray, rushed into the living room, she found Peter slumped on the floor near a brightly lit Christmas tree.
Many reasons have been given for his suicide: that he felt a TV series [was] “the ultimate trap and utterly destructive”; that he had never got over an earlier love affair with actress Jill Andre which went sour; that he was sensitive and couldn’t bear the suffering that was going on in the world; that he had a drinking problem, and was, in fact, drinking heavily the night he ended his life.
But perhaps his sister Pamela came closest to explaining the tragedy when she said, “My brother had many hang-ups and he magnified them out of all proportions. It was not possible for him to pass things off. He couldn’t cope.” Born in the small rural community of Penfield, New York, there was as far as anyone knows no deep trauma in Pete’s childhood. He came from a loving, very respected family, and the relationship between him, his brother, Geoffrey, and Pam was very close.
Interested in acting since his college days, he came to Hollywood after understudying the juvenile lead in Take Her, She’s Mine, found no difficulty landing TV roles; eventually got the lead in Love on A Rooftop and, although he intended to return to Broadway, the television offers that kept pouring in were too lucrative to turn down. No one knew that he despised the work he was doing; sometimes he cringed from sheer boredom. But more important, there were days when he despised himself—and one day he despised himself too much to go on living.
[Editor’s Note: It’s important to keep two things in mind here. One: people don’t always kill themselves because they despise themselves; they often—in fact, more often—kill themselves because they’ve lost hope in living; and two: Peter was on an anti-seizure medication called Dilantin (still in use today) that was known then—and is still known—to cause severe depression and suicide.]