Donald Clarence Simpson (October 29, 1943 – January 19, 1996) was an American film producer, screenwriter, and actor. Simpson, along with his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer, produced such hit films as Flashdance (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986), and The Rock (1996). His films would go on to earn $3 billion worldwide.[1]

Don Simpson
Donald Clarence Simpson

(1943-10-29)October 29, 1943
DiedJanuary 19, 1996(1996-01-19) (aged 52)
Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of deathDrug-related heart failure
Other namesDonald C. Simpson
EducationWest Anchorage High School
Alma materUniversity of Oregon
OccupationFilm producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active1976–1996

Early lifeEdit

Simpson was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of June Hazel (Clark), a housewife, and Russell J. Simpson, a mechanic at Boeing at the time of his birth.[2] He grew up in Juneau, Alaska. His parents were strict Baptist believers and Simpson would go to church 4-5 times a week.[3] He would call himself a "straight-A Bible student.[4] He attended West Anchorage High School, followed by the University of Oregon (English major). After graduation, he worked as a ski instructor in Utah, and then he moved to San Francisco where he worked for a theatrical advertising agency and did public relations for the First International Erotic Film Festival.[5]


In the early 1970s, Simpson moved to Los Angeles and got a job marketing exploitation films for Warner Bros in 1971, handling distribution marketing for the movies Woodstock and A Clockwork Orange. In 1973, Simpson got a job at Paramount Pictures. While there, he co-wrote the 1976 film Cannonball, in which he also had a small role. By 1977, he was named vice-president of production at Paramount, and president in 1981.[6][5] He was fired at Paramount in 1982 after passing out during a studio meeting due to drug use. He was working on 8 productions at once, and would regularly throw a tantrum while in production.[6]

Soon after, he forged a partnership with fellow producer Jerry Bruckheimer.[7][8] The two would go on to produce some of the most financially successful films of the 1980s: Flashdance (1983, terrible reviews but excellent sales[6]), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). In 1985 and again in 1988, he and Bruckheimer were named Producers of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners.[citation needed]

In 1990, Simpson and Bruckheimer signed a five-year deal with Paramount worth a reported $300 million. The deal would prove to be short lived. Later that year, the Simpson/Bruckheimer-produced Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise was released. The auto racing film received mixed reviews and grossed $158 million (over a $60 million budget). While the film was still a financial success, it did not match the success of Simpson and Bruckheimer's previous films. Simpson and Bruckheimer blamed Paramount for the film's lackluster box office returns stating that the studio rushed the planning and release of the film. In turn, Paramount blamed the film's performance on Simpson and Bruckheimer's overspending. The duo mutually parted with Paramount shortly thereafter.[9][10]

In 1991, the two signed with Disney. Their first film for Disney, The Ref (1994), was a financial flop. Their following films, Dangerous Minds, Crimson Tide, and Bad Boys, all released in 1995, brought the pair back to success.[9]


Simpson and Bruckheimer became excessively rich from their movie production activities. The duo chose black as their signature color. Simpson would wear black Levi jeans 501 only before their first wash, and then throw them away. He attended the Canyon Ranch in Arizona for occasional working out and tanning. He claimed he never underwent plastic surgery,[3] but sources imply he went through 10 different plastic surgeries between 1988 and 1994, including a penis-enlargement procedure. Those multiple surgeries eventually led to infection, and many reversal procedures were initiated.[11] He claimed several times that, as a producer, "our obligation is to make money".[12] On the set of Days of Thunder, he dated Donna Wilson who ended up dating the director Tony Scott and marrying him. Simpson worked out everyday with special equipment provided by Arnold Schwarzenegger.[13]

He was known for his loud mouth and provocative quotes, such as "I'm surprised for a smart Jew he's as white-bread as he is" when talking about Steven Spielberg, and "Any person who suggested David Lynch for Dune should have every part of their anatomy examined". He was a life-long fan of Warren Beatty. He claimed he discovered Michael Mann and launched the career of Debra Winger. He also claimed to have picked Richard Gere for American Gigolo, and to be the creator of the Beverly Hills Cop idea, which Michael Eisner denied.[6] In the movie industry, professionals working with Simpson would refer to the "Don Simpson Discount Factor" (DSDF, coined by Jeff Katzenberg), a way to tone down the producer's extravaganza and exaggerations.[6]

As Simpson and Bruckheimer's success grew, so did Simpson's reputation for being a brash "party animal". He would admit that "next to eating and having sex, making movies is the best thing in the world".[6] Simpson's debaucherous lifestyle was well known amongst those in Hollywood, and has been documented in a number of sources. He was a fixture on the "Hollywood cocaine-party" circuit throughout the 1970s and 80s, and in his later years became known for throwing lavish all-night parties at his mansion.[14] An entire chapter of the book You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again (which describes four prostitutes' stories about their sexual encounters with Hollywood celebrities) discusses his frequent sex parties and preference for S & M.[15] Hollywood madam Alexandra D. Datig said that her time with Don was "the most wicked, depraved, and exciting time" of her life, mentioning that he frequently hired "spank monsters" to discipline her, and that he dunked her head into a clogged toilet whilst they were having sex.[16] He would also administer himself testosterone shots in his butt cheeks to boost his sexual drive. According to the call-girl Alexandra Datig, Simpson would audition struggling actresses for his movies, convince them to have sex with him, and secretly film his sexual intercourse with them.[11]

Eventually, a rumor spread there was a hit out on him after he supposedly dated the girlfriend of a mafioso.[3]

Drugs and deathEdit

Drug addictionEdit

Simpson had been using cocaine since the 1980s, but increased his usage over the years. His excessive spending (in both films and his personal life) and erratic mood swings caused by his drug use were well known within the Hollywood industry by the 1990s. According to screenwriter James Toback, both David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg had attempted to get Simpson to go to rehab for his drug use.[9]

Simpson refused to admit himself into a traditional rehab facility and, in 1995, employed Dr. Stephen Ammerman to help him with his addiction. Ammerman, who had a history of drug abuse himself, believed that in order for Simpson to quit drugs, he had to use other drugs to combat the effects of painful withdrawal symptoms. Ammerman designed what has been described as a "dangerously unorthodox" detox program, which included the use of several medications (including morphine) for Simpson to take at home to kick his drug habit.[17] On August 15, 1995, Ammerman was found dead in the shower of the pool house on Simpson's estate.[18] It was later determined that Ammerman died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, Valium, venlafaxine, and morphine.[19]

Frustrated with Simpson's escalating drug use and declining work, Jerry Bruckheimer terminated their partnership in December 1995. The two agreed to finish work on The Rock, which was already in production.[20] The Rock was released after Simpson's death and is dedicated to his memory.[21] In a 1994 interview with the New York Times, Don Simpson declared: "The days of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll are long over, at least they are for us old guys," and, "I'm not going to tell you I've never done drugs: that would be a lie, but I do have one addiction. Unfortunately, it's food."[4]


On January 19, 1996, Simpson was found dead in the bathroom of his Bel Air, Los Angeles home.[22] His death was initially attributed to "natural causes." An autopsy and toxicology report later determined that Simpson had died of heart failure caused by combined drug intoxication (cocaine and prescription medications) while going to the bathroom.[23] At the time of his death, there were 21 different drugs in his system including antidepressants, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers.[11] In August 1996, investigative reporter Chuck Philips of The Los Angeles Times revealed that Simpson had been obtaining large quantities of prescription drugs from 15 different doctors, and that police found 2,200 prescription pills lined up in alphabetical order in his bedroom closet.[17][24][25]

A 1998 book by journalist Charles Fleming reported that Simpson's prescription drug expenses totaled more than $60,000 a month at the time of his death. He also referred to Don Simpson as "a supercharged simple-minded creature, an Aesop's fable on crystal meth."[26][12]

Personal lifeEdit

Simpson was never married, and lived by himself in his Coldwater Canyon mansion in Beverly Hills.[6]

In the 1970s, Don Simpson took classes to join the Church of Scientology, but quit after spending $25,000 and not seeing any significant personal improvements.[27] During the shooting of Days of Thunder, Simpson threw David Miscavige off the production because he refused to pay for a more expensive Scientology-patented sound recording device.[28]


Year Title Role Notes
1975 Aloha, Bobby and Rose
Writer, uncredited
1976 Cannonball Assistant District Attorney Writer
Credited as Donald C. Simpson
1983 Flashdance
1984 Beverly Hills Cop
Thief of Hearts
1986 Top Gun
1987 Beverly Hills Cop II
1990 Days of Thunder Aldo Bennedetti Producer
1994 The Ref
Executive producer
1995 Bad Boys
Crimson Tide
Dangerous Minds
1996 The Rock

Further readingEdit

  • Charles Fleming (April 20, 1999). High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Cultures of Excess. Main Street Books. ISBN 978-0385486958.


  1. ^ "Disney Extends Bruckheimer Deal". May 2, 1997. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  2. ^ "Don Simpson".
  3. ^ a b c Richard Natale (June 6, 1993). "Don and Jerry's Blue Period : They Were the Ultimate Hollywood Success Story. But in Tinseltown, Their Failure Was an Even Better Yarn".
  4. ^ a b Bernard Weinraub (March 14, 1994). "Simpson and Bruckheimer, Part 2".
  5. ^ a b Thomson, David (April 7, 1996). "I'm Don Simpson; And You're Not". Retrieved October 27, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Lynn Hirschberg (September 1, 1985). "Gone Hollywood".
  7. ^ "Don Simpson Bio". FilmStar.
  8. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". p. 1. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  10. ^ Citron, Alan (January 18, 1991). "'Top Gun' Producers, Disney Sign Deal". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c "Don Simpson (Producer) – bizarre sex life?". March 4, 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Son of a pitch". March 12, 1999.
  13. ^ Charles Fleming (April 22, 1998). "Days of plunder".
  14. ^ "Fatal Attraction: How Sex and Drugs Brutally Ripped Apart Hot Hollywood Team". Wall Street Journal.
  15. ^ "Don Simpson: Hollywood Death". April 2, 1998. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  16. ^ Louise Frankel, Jennie (October 1, 2006). You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again. Phoenix Books. p. 133. ISBN 1597775428.
  17. ^ a b Philips, Chuck (August 18, 1996). "Don Simpson's Death Showed Depth of Abuse". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  18. ^ Carla Hall; Chuck Philips (August 17, 1995). "Doctor, 44, Found Dead at Home of Producer : Probe: Body discovered in pool house of Don Simpson. There are no signs of trauma, officials say".
  19. ^ Philips, Chuck; Hall, Carla (February 6, 1996). "Narcotics Unit Probes Don Simpson's Death". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  20. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". p. 3. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  21. ^ Turan, Kenneth (August 7, 1996). "Between a 'Rock' and Loud Place". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  22. ^ Pace, Eric (January 21, 1996). "Don Simpson Is Dead at 52; Produced Blockbuster Films". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  23. ^ "Days of Plunder". LA Weekly.
  24. ^ Shipman, David (January 23, 1996). "Obituary: Don Simpson". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  25. ^ Philips, Chuck; Malnic, Eric (March 17, 1996). "Autopsy Finds Don Simpson Died of Overdose". Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  26. ^ Fleming, Charles (1998). High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess. Doubleday. pp. 9. ISBN 0-385-48694-4.
  27. ^ Kirsten Acuna (July 16, 2012). "13 Former Celebrity Scientologists".
  28. ^ Jane Galbraith (October 17, 1993). "MEDIA WATCH : The Church and The Magazines".

External linksEdit