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July 19th, 2013
02:25 PM ET

Death by Hotel Room: What happens when a celebrity dies at a hotel?

It’s been almost one week since Glee actor Cory Monteith was found dead in his room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver. Monteith joined celebrities James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston, John Belushi, Anna Nicole Smith, Janis Joplin and Coco Chanel, among others, on the tragic list of 'stars found dead in their hotel rooms.'

When a celebrity checks into a major hotel in the U.S., the hotel is most likely financially prepared for the worst case scenario to unfold. According to Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor for CBS News, celebrity managers of clients [who are known to be aggressive and/or into drugs] often times have to put down a $25,000 to $100,000 security deposit for their clients at their hotels even before they check in.

Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, tells OutFront "...guests who pay in cash and only cash are watched quite a bit closer and if a guest or celebrity has a history of damaging hotel rooms then, absolutely, the hotel will take pains to ensure they have additional funds held on the guest's card."

U.S. hotels even have a plan of attack for when a guest dies. According to Greenberg “The first thing that happens is they call the police. Then they [don’t touch] the room so they preserve the evidence for the investigation.”

Once a guest dies, discretion is also key for the hotel staff. Tomsky tells OutFront. “Nothing is bad for business like a sheet-covered gurney being pushed through the lobby…They will do everything they can to deal with it behind the scenes, using employee elevators and back exits…We are trained early on to have this phrase at the ready, no matter how old and tired it may sound: ‘I can neither confirm nor deny that information.  I'm sorry.’”

After the police investigation is finished, these hotel rooms are almost always available again to regular guests and the race is on to restore the rooms to their original condition. “You'd be amazed how quickly they will turn over a room that's had a tragedy occur inside of it” Tomsky explains. In the book Hotel Secrets from the Travel Detective , Peter Greenberg devotes an entire chapter entitled ‘Rooms with a Past’ to hotel rooms ‘famous or infamous’ for deaths, crimes, arrests and movie scenes at places like the Amsterdam Hilton, the Chelsea Hotel, the Chateau Marmont, and the Mark Hotel. For the most part guests can still stay in these iconic rooms.

In 1982 John Belushi was found dead at his hotel bungalow at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, California. Fred Basten, co-author of Life at the Marmont: The Inside Story of Hollywood's Legendary Hotel of the Stars–Chateau Marmont explains to OutFront, "Once the investigators had gone through the bungalow Ray Sarlot [the co-author of the book who also bought the hotel in 1975] had everything inside changed.  He didn't want the place to become a ‘cult symbol.'"

Sally Sarlot, Ray’s wife, reiterated that “Ray put guest privacy ahead of everything and in order to avoid any identification with the bungalow where John died.... There was nothing left to be identified with [Belushi].”

Is it merely a coincidence that so many celebrities happened to die in their hotel rooms or could there be a medical connection between these deaths and the hotel environment?

Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht tells OutFront, “There’s nothing of a physical or environmental connection that predisposes them to [die in a hotel room]…[These celebrities] are frequently on the road and on the move. They spend a great amount of time in their hotel rooms getting ready for performances…It absolutely is a psycho-sociological common denominator of great fame, tremendous pressure and the ease with which drugs are obtained…What you find in many of these cases is much greater ease to obtain drugs when you have 1) money  and 2) sycophants surrounding you.”

Follow Jessica Reinis on Twitter: @JessicaReinis.

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Filed under: Entertainment • OutFront Extra • OutFront Staff
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