The Fortunate Rise and Strange Fall of Claudine Longet

At the young age of 18, French-born Claudine Longet set off to Las Vegas to begin her search for fame as a showgirl dancer, though ultimately it was the death of professional skier Spider Sabich that instead cemented her place in American celebrity history.

Oddly, it was a flat tire in 1959 that set the stage for her first big break when the suave crooner Andy Williams, who was performing in Vegas at the time, pulled over to help her fix it. The small gesture sparked a 10-year relationship that showered Claudine with money, marriage, three kids, and a coat-tailing career as an actor and singer.

(Pictured: Longet and Tim Conway, 1963, Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for Claudine, she possessed a lispy and accent-heavy singing voice that was more kitsch than talent. Like a poor man’s Francoise Hardy, her attempts at Beatles’ covers were equal parts catchy and comedic, but her relationship to TV-sensation Williams ensured her a steady release of albums with enough promotion to secure nominal success.

Throughout the ’60s, Longet made a few appearances acting, most notably as the romantic interest in the classic Peter Sellers movie “The Party,” where she played a thinly veiled version of herself, named Michèle Monet. However, most of her time was spent as Andy’s wife with occasional holiday appearances on his variety show and a lifestyle that you would expect from Hollywood royalty. Claudine and Andy’s best friends were Robert Kennedy and his wife Ethel, who they tragically happened to be with at the hotel the night Robert was shot.

In 1970, Claudine’s perfect TV-captured marriage unraveled, but her network of influential and famous friends remained. It was through Liza Minelli and Clint Eastwood that she met then “professional skiing’s richest racer” Vladimir “Spider” Sabich. The two hit it off instantly and began what would later become an often tumultuous relationship throughout the first half of the ’70s.

Then, on March 21, 1976, the police were called to the Aspen home of Spider Sabich that he shared with Claudine and her three kids. Inside, Spider was slumped dead from his .22 while a nervous Claudine explained he was showing her how to operate the gun when it fired accidentally. She was arrested, but maintained it was an accident and that her relationship with Sabich had not soured.

Friends of Spider told a different story of the relationship, though, one that suggested he had asked Claudine and her family to move out of the house recently in response to her increasingly difficult behavior and jealousy. The subsequent court hearing for manslaughter was the crime event of the ’70s, bringing heaps of unwanted attention to the then still quaint Colorado ski town. The press descended on this dark spectacle in ways that could be seen as the earliest seeds of our TMZ generation.

Surprisingly, the police made several errors handling the case and Claudine was only charged for misdemeanor criminal negligence even though the evidence strongly suggested she had shot Spider in the back. She may have won the case, but in the court of public opinion, she had wholeheartedly lost, especially after vacationing with her then-married defense attorney, Ron Austin, afterward.

The attention was so absolutely negative that Claudine has since slipped out of sight, eventually marrying the now-divorced defense attorney and is rumored to be keeping a low profile between their homes in Aspen and Hawaii. A vanishing act so complete that our only evidence of her actual existence is a legacy of awesomely cheesy thrift-store vinyl scores.

“It’s a shame because Spider accomplished so much in his life. Claudine accomplished only two things, marrying Andy Williams and getting away with murder.” – Steve Sabich, brother of Spider

Video: Andy Williams and Claudine Longet Singing Together