When police answered a call from a man who said he had been stabbed at a house in suburban Rockland County, N.Y. that Saturday evening, they found the prime suspect—a drawn-looking, 40ish platinum blonde—standing outside. Neatly dressed in black pants and sweater, she was bleeding from numerous cuts on her right arm; her eyes were so bloodshot that the officers did not believe she was Joey Heatherton. Obeying her instructions to search her purse for the identification that would prove her to be the star of stage, screen and, lately, battery commercials, they came upon suspicious white powder in her makeup bag. When she was arraigned after a trip to nearby Good Samaritan Hospital, she faced charges of possessing a controlled substance in addition to committing a felony assault and menacing her ex-lover.
For Heatherton, 41, it was the third encounter with the law in two years—and another set of headlines she didn’t need. In July 1985, the singer-actress was charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly slapping a clerk at Manhattan’s U.S. Passport Agency office. Five months later, Heatherton was cleared of theft-of-services charges pertaining to a $4,906 bill at a Long Island spa. With the alleged attack on 45-year-old Jerry Fisher, a drummer who remained her manager for three years after their 1982 personal breakup, the erstwhile sex kitten underscored her image as a troubled woman pained by her flagging career.
According to local authorities, Fisher said that the latest incident began with Heatherton accusing him of mismanaging her career. It ended, he charged, in an out-of-control tirade: Wielding a steak knife in one hand and a carving knife in the other, Heatherton slashed two of his fingers and threatened to kill him.
Whatever its cause, the Labor Day-weekend drama resurrected the rumors that ’60s starlet Heatherton has suffered a dramatic physical decline in the past seven years that parallels her professional slump. Her 1969 marriage to former Dallas Cowboy Lance Rentzel ended in 1971 after he had been convicted on morals charges following his arrest for indecent exposure involving a 10-year-old girl. Dick Maurice, a Las Vegas columnist who has known Heatherton for years, believes her feminine esteem was shattered by Rentzel’s arrest. He says she began “crying out for help” and became obsessed with her appearance. Rather than asking, “Do I look nice?” says Maurice, she invested in black clothing and always asked, “Do I look thin?”
Fisher apparently entered Heatherton’s life in the mid-’70s, when she was still a Las Vegas headliner starring in acts that cost as much as $150,000 to mount. Some of her champions—including father Ray, 76, a veteran entertainer—have claimed that Fisher’s poor judgment provoked her downfall. “He was a big drain on her,” the elder Heatherton has said. Stories about her reported anorexia and drug use began to appear, and she found herself reduced to opening for other performers. “Her career is all she has,” says Jack Eglash, a friend who was entertainment director for the Del E. Webb Corporation. It fell apart, he adds, “because of bad management and a lack of work.” There might have been other reasons: a canceled professional engagement; a TV appearance at which at least one witness noted her “heavy and glazed eyes.” Her father is said to have tried to persuade her to enter a sanatorium, but to no avail.
Whatever personal problems she may face, Heatherton (who is staying with a woman friend in Upstate New York) will be occupied for the time being with her legal difficulties. If convicted, she could draw a seven-year prison sentence—and earn a place in the pop-culture pantheon of those whose professional achievements have been adumbrated by their all-too-public troubles.