Songwriter Joseph Brooks, the Oscar-winning songwriter and director behind 1977’s You Light Up My Life and its hit title track, has died after an apparent suicide, reportedly by suffocating himself with a plastic bag hooked up to a helium tank. Brooks was awaiting trial for allegedly luring numerous aspiring actresses to his apartment with a Craigslist ad, then sexually assaulting them. While he was charged with some 127 counts of rape and sexual abuse, he maintained his innocence in a suicide note. He was 73.
Brooks was a former writer of ad jingles like Maxwell House’s “Good To The Last Drop Feeling” and Pepsi’s “You’ve Got A Lot To Live”; he accrued plenty of wealth thanks to their success, but not the fame he desired. After getting a taste of Hollywood by composing for Jeremy and The Lords Of Flatbush, he embarked on a series of his own self-financed films, beginning with the Didi Conn-starring romantic comedy that was his biggest hit—though most of that had to do with the Debby Boone version of Brooks’ title song, which ended up being the most popular record of the 1970s, staying at No. 1 for 10 consecutive weeks. In addition to helping Boone win the Grammy for Best New Artist, Brooks collected both a Record Of The Year Grammy and an Oscar for Best Original Song.
Much to Brooks’ frustration, it was the last time he would achieve that sort of acclaim. Nevertheless, by all reports, his egomania swelled to outrageous proportions immediately thereafter. His next film, If I Ever See You Again, was a semi-autobiographical story of a former ad jingle writer trying to break into the movie business; along with once again writing, directing, and producing it, Brooks also insisted on starring in it, despite his lack of acting experience and his severe stutter. Undaunted by the harsh critical reception his films received, Brooks went behind the cameras several more times, directing Headin’ For Broadway and Invitation To The Wedding in the early ’80s, and most recently, the obscure, unreleased 1999 film Sara’s Life Before It Became A Movie. (He had more success, albeit tangential, by serving as a co-producer on Eddie And The Cruisers.)
In the last couple of years, of course, Brooks finally achieved that universal notoriety he’d always sought, although it was in the worst way possible. His son, Nicholas, was accused in late 2010 of murdering his girlfriend, which prompted this excoriating New York Magazine profile that delved into the creepy, troubled Brooks family, including Joseph’s 2009 arrests for attacking 13 separate actresses and singers. (According to the victims’ accounts, Brooks would hand them a script and ask them to play the role of a prostitute, then encourage them to drink as much wine as possible and disrobe; if they balked, he’d further push them along by holding up his Oscar and saying, “This could be you holding this Oscar, if you do what I say.”) While Brooks’ “three-page, rambling” suicide note made no mention of his son, it did address his own charges, saying he would be acquitted once his trial began this week. Brooks also complained of deteriorating health and about a woman—whom cops believe to be a prostitute, given Brooks’ history with escort services—who was allegedly abusing him and stealing his money. All in all, a sad and twisted end to a sad and twisted man.