Inside The Plane Crash That Killed Dean Paul Martin Jr., The Golden Child Of Dean Martin

Published November 2, 2023
Updated November 4, 2023

Dean Paul Martin Jr. dabbled in singing, acting, and tennis throughout his short life, but his true passion was flying. Tragically, it was a routine training mission with the Air Force that led to his death at age 35.

Dean Paul Martin

Wikimedia CommonsDean Paul Martin Jr., the actor son of Dean Martin, died in a military plane crash.

The son of famous singer and actor Dean Martin, Dean Paul Martin Jr. was something of a “golden boy.” Not only was he handsome, but he was incredibly multitalented, finding success as a musician, a professional athlete, an actor, and a pilot in the military.

“The problem with Dean is that he was too good at too many things,” a friend would later say. “He was terrific looking, from a famous family, and he had talent. When you have all those things on your plate — well, it’s hard to resist someone like that.”

Tragically, young Martin’s promising life came to a sudden end when he was just 35. He was training with the Air National Guard in 1987 when he flew into the side of a mountain and died on impact.

This is the story of the life and death of Dean Paul Martin Jr.

The Early Life Of Dean Martin’s Son

Born Dino Paul Crocetti Jr. on November 17, 1951, Dean Paul Martin Jr. was the fifth child of singer and actor Dean Martin. However, he was the eldest child that Martin shared with his second wife, Jeanne Biegger Martin.

Though he was named after his famous father, young Martin seemed eager to make a reputation for himself from an early age.

When he was 13, he formed a singing group with Desi Arnaz Jr. — the son of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball — and his neighbor Billy Hinsche called Dino, Desi and Billy. The pop group had a couple of Billboard Top 30 hits, including “I’m A Fool,” which reached number 17 in 1965.

Dino Desi And Billy

Wikimedia CommonsDino, Desi and Billy perform on The Dean Martin Show in 1965. From left: Billy Hinsche, Desi Arnaz Jr., and Dean “Dino” Paul Martin.

After high school, Martin Jr. briefly attended UCLA. A talented athlete, he became an NCAA tennis champion before dropping out of school after two semesters to marry actress Olivia Hussey in 1971.

“There was nothing he felt he couldn’t get,” Tina Sinatra, one of Martin Jr.’s childhood friends and the daughter of Frank Sinatra, later told PEOPLE. “We were once in a movie theater watching Romeo and Juliet and Dean pointed to Olivia Hussey on the screen. He said, ‘I’m going to meet her one day and marry her,’ which of course he did.”

Indeed, Dean Paul Martin Jr. seemingly achieved anything he set his mind to — a trend that would continue into his adult life.

The Many Talents Of Dean Paul Martin Jr.

Dean Paul Martin Jr.’s marriage to Hussey lasted from 1971 to 1978. They had a son named Alex, but they divorced when he was five years old.

During their marriage, Martin Jr. tried out a variety of athletic careers. He played semi-professional football in Las Vegas and dabbled in car racing before eventually returning to tennis.

He launched a successful professional tennis career and even competed in qualifying rounds for both singles and doubles at Wimbledon from 1975 to 1978.

Surprisingly, it was Dean Paul Martin Jr.’s tennis career that helped him land his breakout acting role. In 1979, he channeled his experience on the court for a role as a professional tennis player in the film Players alongside Ali MacGraw. While the movie didn’t do spectacularly at the box office, it helped make a celebrity out of young Martin, who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year.

Dean Martin's Son In Players

ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock PhotoDean Paul Martin Jr. and Ali MacGraw in the 1979 film Players, which earned Martin Jr. a Golden Globe nomination.

From there, Martin Jr. landed a number of film and television roles. Notably, in 1985, he joined the cast of the series Misfits of Science alongside Courteney Cox. A sci-fi drama-comedy, the show followed a group of super-humans and a mad scientist, portrayed by Martin Jr., as they embarked on zany misadventures.

Despite his forays into singing, acting, and sports, it was his career in the military that would ultimately shape the course of Dean Paul Martin Jr.’s life.

How Young Martin Became An Air Force Pilot

Martin Jr. had earned his pilot’s license at the age of 16, and flying became one of his lifelong hobbies. He eventually decided to further pursue his passion and enlisted in the California Air National Guard in 1980.

Soon, he entered officer training with the U.S. Air Force, and he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1981. He donned his military uniform to marry his second wife, figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, in 1982.

“I’m proud of him,” his famous father reportedly said at their engagement party. “I’d be proud even if he didn’t become a jet pilot, because he’s a good boy. He just doesn’t know what he wants to be.”

Wedding To Dorothy Hamill

ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock PhotoDean Paul Martin Jr. married Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill in 1982. The two divorced in 1984.

Even as Martin Jr. continued to pursue his acting career, he was spending much of his time in the air. He was soon promoted to the rank of captain.

“The high I get seeing the sun come up is so great that if I die, it would have been worth it,” he once said. Chillingly, these words would prove prophetic.

The Tragic Plane Crash That Killed Dean Martin’s Son

On March 21, 1987, Martin Jr. and Captain Ramon Ortiz took off in an F-4C Phantom jet for a routine training flight over the San Bernardino Mountains. Martin Jr. was piloting when the weather conditions turned dangerous. A snowstorm quickly blinded the men.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an Ontario Airport controller frantically alerted Martin Jr. to alter his course to avoid a mountain — but he seemingly didn’t hear the order.

Suddenly, the jet dropped 4,000 feet in the air and slammed into the side of Mount San Gorgonio at 400 miles per hour. Both men died instantly. Martin was just 35 years old.

Dean Paul Martin's Grave

Barry King/Alamy Stock PhotoDean Paul Martin Jr.’s grave at Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Dean Paul Martin Jr.’s funeral was a star-studded affair. Fighter jets flew overhead in a traditional tribute, and more than 200 people attended the services, including his father Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz Jr.

As Martin Jr.’s friend Morgan Mason later noted, “His life was fuller than most people 100 years old.”

After learning about the tragic death of Dean Paul Martin Jr., read about how John Denver died after crashing a plane he was piloting in 1997. Then, go inside R&B singer Aaliyah’s fatal plane crash in the Bahamas.

Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Donahue, Maggie. "Inside The Plane Crash That Killed Dean Paul Martin Jr., The Golden Child Of Dean Martin.", November 2, 2023, Accessed May 27, 2024.