Graham Womack’s review of Jermone Charyn’s new book Joe DiMaggio:The Long Vigil reminded me of a friendship I had with DiMaggio’s only child, his son Joe, Jr.
During the 1960s, young Joe and I were classmates at a New Jersey all-boys preparatory school. Interestingly, DiMaggio never talked about his father. Not until long after we graduated did I learn that Joe and his father had a stained and often hostile relationship.
After DiMaggio divorced his first wife Dorothy Arnold, Joe (called Joey D. by his family) was sent to several military academies, summer camps and the prep school where I met him. Joe, the mirror image physically of his father, neither spoke of DiMaggio nor touched a baseball bat. Instead, Joe played varsity football. An outstanding athlete, Joe made the All New Jersey team as a center and kicker. But even though Di Maggio lived in nearby Manhattan, he never came to his son’s games or to visit on Parent’s Day.
At the time, none of Joe’s friends fully realized the wisdom of his decision not to play baseball. What chance would he have had of even coming close to his father’s extraordinary success?
Joe entered Yale University but at that point his life, already troubled, unraveled. After a year at Yale, Joe dropped out, returned to his native California, worked menial jobs and then entered the United States Marines. After completing his Marines’ commitment, Joe married a 17-year-old San Diego girl. Their union lasted only a year.
More odd jobs followed before Joe moved to Boston to work for his Uncle Dom. Joe met and married Sue Adams, a divorcee with two daughters. This led to Joe’s happiest days with his father who doted on his stepdaughters.
But Joe felt that he could never totally please his father. Gradually, he fell into drug and alcohol abuse which caused vicious battles with Adams that left her battered and bloody. In 1974, they divorced.
Two years later, Joe was in a serious automobile accident that resulted in the removal of a portion of his brain. The surgery left Joe more emotionally unstable and drug dependent than ever.
Knowing the short and long-term effects of substance abuse will help you understand better the trouble that a drug addicted friend or loved one is in for without addiction treatment.
Although Joe didn’t visit his father during DiMaggio’s final days battling cancer, he was a pall bearer at the funeral.
Five months after DiMaggio’s death, Joe entered the bleakest, final days of his life. His drug usage escalated, he had periods of homelessness, worked at a junkyard, and had minor scrapes with the police. At age 57, Joe was living in a trailer. On August 6, 1999, Antioch police found Joe’s nearly lifeless body on the street. Despite resuscitation efforts, Joe died shortly after arrival at the Sutter Delta Medical Center. His ashes were scattered at sea.
DiMaggio’s ex-wife Sue summed up Joe’s tortured life: “They threw the man away.”
Joe’s happiest days may have been those that he spent with Marilyn Monroe. One early fall day, just as we all had returned from our summer vacations, Joe told of his stepmother Marilyn making his breakfast and serving it to him.
Usually, when teenagers recount their vacation adventures, gross exaggeration is the rule. But we knew Joe’s story about Monroe was true. How envious we were!
By most accounts, Joe was among the last people to speak to Monroe before she died.
Joe’s few brief and carefree days with Monroe hardly compensate for the decades that DiMaggio ignored him. Even in death, DiMaggio dismissed Joe by leaving him a token sum in his will, the smallest amount of any of his heirs.
Opinions differ about DiMaggio’s character. But what’s clear is that DiMaggio was, at best, an indifferent parent. In the early 1980s, when I lived in Seattle, I got into an elevator at the Washington Athletic Club. DiMaggio was the only other passenger. I extended my hand, introduced myself and told him that I was Joe’s classmate. DiMaggio didn’t utter a word.
DiMaggio was so cold and insensitive to Joe’s filial needs that he denied his son what could have been a productive life and instead helped put him in his early grave.