TWO WEEKS BEFORE GARY CROSBY’S death, his theatrical agent Ernie Dade, unaware that his client was ill, phoned to say he had set up an appointment. “I don’t think I’ll be going on any appointments—I’m dying of cancer,” Crosby, 62, told him. “Wouldn’t you know it? I finally got my s—t together. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped fighting the fact that Bing Crosby was my father. And now look what’s happened.”
Crosby’s haunted life ended on Aug. 24, when he succumbed in Burbank, Calif., to complications of lung cancer, which had been diagnosed in June. “We thought he had bronchitis,” says Bobbi Boyle, 64, his fiancée. “When it didn’t go away, Gary went for tests at UCLA. That’s when we learned that he had inoperable lung cancer.”
The eldest of four sons born to Bing Crosby and his first wife, actress Dixie Lee, Gary—named for Bing’s friend Gary Cooper—fought a lifelong battle against alcoholism and the ghosts of his childhood. In his 1983 memoir, Going My Own Way, he stripped away his famous father’s good-guy facade, revealing a childhood of beatings and emotional violence. Whenever Gary gained weight, he wrote, his father, who called him Bucket Butt in public and insisted on weekly weigh-ins, beat him with a belt until he bled.
Although best known as a TV supporting actor—he played Officer Ed Wells on Adam-12 from 1968 to 1975 and had a regular role on Hunter in the ’80s—Crosby owned a little bit of recording history. In 1950 he and Bing teamed up to sing two duets, “Sam’s Song” and “Play a Simple Melody,” that became part of the first double-sided gold record ever. He and his brothers—two of whom, Lindsay and Dennis, later committed suicide—briefly sang together during the ’50s. Just before his death Gary was working on an album in which, like the 1991 Natalie Cole-Nat “King” Cole Unforgettable album, he would be paired electronically with his late father.
Separated from third wife Carol (their divorce became final a week before his death), Crosby, who had one son, Steve, 40, planned to marry Boyle at Christmastime. “He was a sweet guy,” she says. “And he never meant to bad-mouth his father; he just wanted people to know the truth.”