Celebrity Biographer Charles Higham Dead at 81

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com May 04 2012 3:51 PM ET

Celebrity biographer Charles Higham, a gay man whose books claimed, among other things, that industrialist Howard Hughes had an affair with movie star Cary Grant and that heartthrob Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy, has died at age 81.

Higham died April 21 at his home in Los Angeles, apparently of a heart attack, but his death was not announced until this week, The New York Times reports. His friend Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter’s chief film critic, made the announcement Wednesday.

The London-born Higham wrote about two dozen biographies, and his subjects included such iconic figures as Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Orson Welles, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, in addition to Hughes and Grant. He once characterized his work as “a continuing social history told through biography.” His books sold well, but critics were sometimes skeptical of the claims he made, often based on anonymous sources.

In Howard Hughes: The Secret Life, published in 1993, “his assertions that Hughes had a romance with Cary Grant, was centrally involved in Watergate, offering material assistance to some of the conspirators, and quite possibly died of AIDS all raised eyebrows in the news media,” the Times reports.

Flynn’s family sued Higham and publisher Doubleday for libel over 1980’s Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, which alleged that the late actor was a spy for Nazi Germany. The suit was dismissed on the grounds that libel claims cannot be made on behalf of the dead.

Higham was married to Norine Lillian Cecil in the 1950s, but their union dissolved after he came to terms with his attraction to men and she fell in love with a woman, according to the Los Angeles Times. He had a long-term relationship with Richard Palafox, a nurse, who died two years ago. Higham chronicled his life and loves in In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer’s Memoir, published in 2009.