The eldest of Marlon Brando's children, Christian Brando struggled with drug and alcohol abuse before he was sentenced to ten years in prison for killing his sister's lover inside his father's home in 1990.
Marlon Brando is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time for his roles in The Godfather series, Apocalypse Now, and On the Waterfront, to name a few. On screen, his presence was undeniable. He was a pioneer of method acting and inspired generations of actors who came after him — including his own son, Christian Brando.
Unfortunately, Marlon Brando’s life off-screen was about as dramatic as any film he could have starred in. He was married three times, had nine children of his own, and adopted another two. A fair number of them pursued careers in acting, while others chose different paths, though none quite reached their father’s heights in Hollywood.
In fact, the most famous — or infamous, rather — event in the Brando children’s lives came on May 16, 1990, when eldest son Christian Brando shot and killed his half-sister Cheyenne’s lover, Dag Drollet. Though Drollet had only met Christian a few times, Cheyenne and Christian were close. She disclosed to him that Drollet had been beating her, but when Christian confronted Drollet, a gun went off in the struggle, leaving Drollet dead.
Here’s everything you need to know about the eldest son of Marlon Brando.
Christian Brando’s Difficult Early Life
Christian Devi Brando was born on May 11, 1958, the only child Marlon Brando had with his first wife, former actress Anna Kashfi. Kashfi and Brando had met in 1955 and started an affair, leading to Kashfi’s pregnancy in 1957. The couple married a year later, around the time their son was born, and then tumultuously divorced a year after that.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, what followed was a heated, 16-year custody battle in which Kashfi was initially awarded custody of her son, only for that order to be removed five years later when a judge found that she had an uncontrollable temper due to a “reliance on drugs and alcohol.”
When Christian eventually went on to live with his dad, he was primarily raised by nannies and sent to a boarding school in Ojai.
In 1972, as Marlon Brando was filming Last Tango in Paris, Kashfi allegedly kidnapped Christian, taking him to Baja California, Mexico, where he was found living in a tent and suffering from bronchitis.
Marlon Brando would later describe Anna Kashfi as one of the most “unhappy and cruel” people he had ever met, according to the Washington Post.
“Most people have some good and bad aspects,” Brando said. “His mother came as close to being a negative person, and as cruel and unhappy a person, as I’ve ever met.”
Christian Brando dropped out of school in the 11th grade, began drinking heavily and using LSD, and tried his hand at a number of jobs, including welding, trimming trees, and piloting a barge in Alaska. Like his father, Christian tried to get into acting, though he never found much success and spent most of his time living with his father in a hilltop estate.
It was there that he became especially close with his half-sister, Cheyenne. Then, one day, while the two were at dinner, she would confide in him that her lover, Dag Drollet, had been beating her. Brando went to confront Drollet, and the altercation ended in the most tragic of ways.
The Killing Of Dag Drollet
Dag Drollet was 26 at the time of his death. He had been seeing Cheyenne Brando for roughly four years, though their relationship was anything but pleasant. According to a later Los Angeles Times report, Drollet’s family said the young actor had been trying to break away from the relationship, describing Cheyenne Brando as “spoiled” and “unstable.”
To complicate matters further, Cheyenne Brando was pregnant with Drollet’s child.
It was likely for this reason that Drollet accompanied Cheyenne to Los Angeles from his native Tahiti in May 1990. Before he left, Drollet’s father issued him a few words of warning: “Dag, stop this life with Cheyenne because she’s not balanced… you will have great difficulties — perhaps suicide, perhaps she can kill you, or you can die, both of you, because of her.”
During the trip, Drollet and Cheyenne went to stay at the Brando residence, where Marlon and Christian were living. Drollet and Christian Brando had only met a handful of times before then, but when Cheyenne confessed to Christian that Drollet had been physically abusive toward her, he decided to confront the Tahitian actor.
Christian Brando entered the living room of his father’s house and, brandishing a gun, threatened Drollet. Later, he would say, “I did not go into that room to kill Dag Drollet. I just wanted to scare him.”
Brando claimed that as he turned to leave the room, Drollet reached out and tried to grab the gun from him. Then, it went off, and Drollet was dead.
“I just sat there and watched the life go out of this guy,” Brando recalled.
The Aftermath Of Dag Drollet’s Death
The situation was made even worse a few years later, when Cheyenne Brando died by suicide at her mother’s home in Tahiti in 1995. Cheyenne had long struggled with her mental health, and as revelations about her mental state came to light, it caused Christian to wonder if she had been telling the truth about Drollet at all.
“I feel like a complete chump for believing her,” he later said.
Drollet’s father later explained:
“We make a distinction between a slap and a blow. A blow is different. Dag never beat Cheyenne. Perhaps on one or two occasions when Cheyenne was in a rage, she was scratching him, hitting him, throwing things at Dag, perhaps he gave her one or two slaps, but he never beat her and nothing at all since she was pregnant, never.”
Christian Brando ultimately pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He wound up only serving five, with an additional three years’ probation.
His troubles were far from over, though, as years later he was called to court for another high-profile trial: Robert Blake’s alleged slaying of his wife Bonny Lee Bakley.
Christian Brando’s Later Years And Death
After his release from prison, Brando largely kept out of the public eye, though his personal life was certainly troubled.
In 2005, he was called to testify in the civil trial against Robert Blake, in part because of his previous, albeit brief, romance with Bonny Lee Bakley. His testimony was effectively useless, though, as according to Court TV he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any questions about their relationship.
In the end, he was fined $1,000 for contempt of court, though he was cleared of any involvement in Bakley’s killing.
That same year, Brando was charged with two counts of spousal abuse against his then-wife, Deborah Brando, to which he pleaded no contest. He was placed on three years’ probation and ordered to undergo rehabilitation for drug and alcohol use and to enroll in a spousal abuse prevention program.
Brando and his ex-wife continued to file civil suits against each other until 2007, when they eventually settled out of court.
Christian Brando died on January 6, 2008 due to complications of pneumonia. He was 49.
After learning about the troubled life of Christian Brando, read about nine other Hollywood deaths that shocked the world. Or, read the controversial story of Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American woman who rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf — and may not have been Native at all.