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In a cocoon of their making

Friends sift through the clues left by Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan, the glittering 'It' couple who committed suicide.

August 03, 2007|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

On the evening of July 10, rising art star Jeremy Blake returned to his New York apartment, a converted rectory at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery that he shared with his girlfriend, Theresa Duncan. The couple, extremely devoted and still very much in love after 12 years, had eaten a late lunch together, and Blake invited the church's assistant pastor over for a drink.

According to Father Frank Morales, Blake was the first to discover Duncan -- a blogger, screenwriter and video-game designer -- lying prone in the bedroom. "He was crying, visibly shattered," said Morales, who entered the apartment five minutes behind Blake. "He was sobbing, kicking the walls, putting his head in his hands. But that night he got a grip fairly quickly." A suicide note, a bottle of pills and alcohol were found near the body, police said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Suicides: An article in Friday's Calendar about the deaths of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan misspelled the last name of author George Pelecanos as Pelicanos.

Friends rushed to Blake's side, including some from Los Angeles, where the couple had lived for several years, and the Washington area, where Blake was raised. "It was on the table: This guy's an extreme suicide risk," Morales said. "Six to 10 people took it in shifts looking after him. We had him blanketed."

But after a week of supervision, Blake was "pulling at the leash," Morales said, and returned to his day job as a graphic designer at the video game manufacturer Rockstar Games.

On July 17, a day before Duncan's funeral outside Detroit, Blake took the subway heading for Brooklyn, where he was meeting a friend. A short while later, a woman phoned police when she observed the 6-foot-2 artist wander into the surf off New York's Rockaway Beach, leaving behind his clothing, wallet and a short, hand-written suicide note. A fisherman discovered Blake's body off the coast of New Jersey five days later.

The double suicide of this glamorous, well-connected and attractive couple has baffled and fixated branches of the Hollywood film community, the art world and the blogosphere. In the days since their deaths, a clearer picture has emerged of a couple bound very tightly but suspicious of outsiders and increasingly losing touch with reality. Though he was selling work at top art galleries, she had suffered a big disappointment when Paramount put a screenplay of hers into turnaround. And Blake and Duncan were sure people were conspiring against them -- in particular, the Church of Scientology.

In a 27-page "chronology" written by Blake in October in preparation for a lawsuit against the church that was never filed, he alleges the couple was "methodically defamed, harassed, followed and threatened" by Scientologists. The document lists Tom Cruise, filmmaker-artist-author Miranda July, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, former Viacom Chief Executive Tom Freston, alternative rocker Beck and Art Forum Editor Tim Griffin, among others, as players in the dispute. In addition, a number of Hollywood talent agents and major league art collectors were accused of being in on the conspiracy.

In many ways, the chronology serves as a portrait of growing paranoia: It begins with struggles over making a film and ends up with mentions of implied threats to the couple's dog and sightings of "Scientology related satanic graffiti" near their Venice, Calif., home.

But also the papers flesh out a picture of Blake, 35, and Duncan, 40, as an Information Age "It" couple with an all-access pass to the hippest quadrants of popular culture -- but who failed to find their bliss in Hollywood.

Possessed of movie star good looks, remembered as "alarmingly brilliant" and at times jealously protective of each other, the couple has been posthumously dubbed "Theremy" by Artnet.com.

"They were like two parts of the same person -- very, very bonded," said New York-based writer Glenn O'Brien, who vacationed with the couple at his country house days before Duncan's death. "They were both extremely bright and knowledgeable. You could talk to them about the history of electricity or politics. Both were really scholarly in a pop sense."

'Never spent a night apart'

"They were a dynamic force, and I'm sure their brilliance circulated between them symbiotically," said Jonathan Binstock, former curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where an exhibit of Blake's final works will be mounted in October. "She told me once they had basically never spent a night apart in their relationship."

Duncan is most frequently identified with her blog the Wit of the Staircase (from the French phrase "esprit d'escalier" -- the perfect witty response one thinks up after the conversation is over), which showcased her far-ranging cultural obsessions, including supermodel Kate Moss and discontinued perfumes. It became widely bookmarked among literary-minded Angelenos. She was also a freelance essayist, screenwriter and CD-ROM game designer whose titles -- Chop Suey, Smarty and Zero Zero -- attracted a cult following among girls.

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