Dominique Dunne (November 23, 1959 – November 4, 1982)
Dominique Ellen Dunne was an American actress, best known for portraying Dana Freeling, the eldest daughter in the 1982
horror film, Poltergeist.
Born in Santa Monica, California, Dunne’s first role was in the 1979 TV film, Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker. She guested on TV series Lou Grant, Hart to Hart and Fame. She scored a recurring role on the comedy/drama series, Breaking Away. Her role in Poltergeist was her first feature film role.
In 1981, she met sous chef John Thomas Sweeney at a party. After a few weeks, they moved into a one-bedroom home together. The relationship deteriorated due to Sweeney’s possessiveness. They often fought and Sweeney began physically assaulting her. Dunne returned to her mother’s house. After a few days, she returned to the home she shared with Sweeney. The physical abuse continued. After a particularly violent assault witnessed by a friend in September 1982, Dunne moved out. She ended the relationship and Sweeney moved out. Without Sweeney there, Dunne moved back into the home after changing the locks.
On October 30, 1982, Dunne was strangled by Sweeney in the driveway of that home after he convinced her to come outside and talk to him. Dunne was taken to Cedars Sinai Medical Center and placed in a coma. After several brain scans showing no brain activity, five days later her parents removed her life support. Dunne hadn’t regained consciousness. Dunne’s mother donated her heart and kidneys.
In a sick twist of fate, Dunne’s final TV appearance was on an episode of Hill Street Blues. She played a victim of child abuse. The episode was filmed the day after the violent assault in September 1982. Due to all the bruises Sweeney inflicted, Dunne did not require any makeup. This episode aired a few days after Dunne’s funeral and was dedicated to her memory.
Sweeney was found guilty not of the second-degree murder that was sought, but of voluntary manslaughter and of misdemeanor assault for the September 1982 altercation. He was sentenced to 6 1/2 years for manslaughter and six months for the assault. He was released in September 1986.