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Suspected Pusher Held After Appeal by Grieving Actor : Addiction: Carroll O'Connor says the man supplied drugs to his son, who was apparently driven to suicide.

March 30, 1995|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a scenario that would have the makings of television drama if it weren't so terribly real, TV icon Carroll O'Connor stands outside the house where his son committed suicide and, choked with emotion, describes his tormented only son.

O'Connor stares resolutely into a battery of television cameras and blames his son's death by apparent suicide on the ravages of cocaine and on a mysterious drug pusher named Harry.

"These dealers, they kill people," O'Connor says in the encounter with reporters Tuesday night. "They make a living giving people the means to kill themselves."

Less than 12 hours later, acting Wednesday morning on information from the distraught father, Los Angeles police raided the condominium of Harry Perzigian and arrested the Brentwood man on suspicion of possessing cocaine for sale. Police said they seized drugs, cash and paraphernalia at the residence.

Perzigian was not accused of complicity in the death of Hugh O'Connor, 32. But the veteran actor made it clear he has no doubt who is to blame for his son shooting himself in the head. "He has been as responsible for Hugh's death as anyone on Earth," O'Connor said, referring to Perzigian. "Harry, I'm looking to see you some day."

Tuesday's suicide of Hugh Edward O'Connor was the final act in a tortured addiction that had lasted half a lifetime. Even in the final week, O'Connor's famous father was struggling to deal with the dilemma.

Five days before the suicide, the elder O'Connor had tried to cut off his son's alleged supplier--by driving to the West Los Angeles police station to report that Perzigian had come, more than once, to Hugh O'Connor's home to sell drugs.

By the time Hugh O'Connor telephoned his father Tuesday afternoon, though, it seemed too late. He told Carroll O'Connor he was going to shoot himself because he could not face the prospect of returning to a drug rehabilitation center.

"My son, Hugh, a beautiful boy, and a good actor . . . has been an addict to various drugs and substances for about 16 years," O'Connor told reporters. "On and off, he has fought it very gamely, very courageously. He went to three different drug rehabilitation places, and could not face going into another one for perhaps six months or a year."

O'Connor said he had frantically called his son back several times before telling police of the suicide threat, alerting them that his son kept several guns in his home on a hillside overlooking the ocean.

When police forced their way into the home just after sunset, they found the younger O'Connor dead of a single gunshot wound to the head, from a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. A short suicide note lay nearby.

At least outwardly, the younger O'Connor seemed to have lead the charmed life of a privileged Hollywood son. He was an actor who worked on his father's weekly television drama, "In the Heat of the Night," playing the character of Detective Lonnie Jamison since the program's inception in 1989.

O'Connor lived in a picturesque cottage with red-tiled roof, along with his wife of three years and their young son. Neighbors recalled that Hugh O'Connor was dedicated to remodeling his home and also spent hours polishing his beloved Porsche convertible. O'Connor would have turned 33 next week; his third wedding anniversary was Tuesday.

Family had seemed important to him, neighbors said. When his son was born almost three years ago, O'Connor was "thrilled to be a papa and to have a little boy," said neighbor Audrey Ross.

But those close to him knew that O'Connor--an adopted son and his father's only child--had been fighting the demon of drug addiction for half of his life.

"Anyone would have been fond of Hugh," said Carroll O'Connor. "He was good-looking, straightforward, he had a good sense of humor. (But) he had a monkey on his back, and he couldn't get rid of it."

Angela Clayton O'Connor had told her father-in-law that she was tormented by the drug dealer's visits to her home, Carroll O'Connor said. Just hours after the suicide, the distraught father threatened to take news crews with him to confront Perzigian at his apartment.

*

But he didn't have to. Just before noon Wednesday, detectives knocked on Perzigian's door and were invited in, said Lt. Bernie Larralde of the Los Angeles Police Department's narcotics unit. Investigators found an ounce of cocaine on a coffee table, drug paraphernalia and $1,700 in large bills, Larralde said, adding that they suspect Perzigian flushed even more drugs down the toilet before greeting detectives.

Detectives were still in the nondescript condominium late Wednesday afternoon. They said they were still trying to determine whether Perzigian, who was being held on $15,000 bail, sold drugs to O'Connor.

O'Connor was born in Rome, where he was adopted by Carroll and Nancy O'Connor during the filming of "Cleopatra." The dark, thin young man was a striking contrast to his father, an Irishman and former merchant marine who grew up in New York.

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