Claudine Longet and Spider Sabich
A Bitter Goodbye
The funeral was a bitter goodbye.
Spring had just arrived in 1976. An overflow crowd gathered at a Catholic church in Placerville, Calif., in the lap of the Sierra Nevadas, to mourn Spider Sabich, the young American skiing star taken in the prime of his life.
Sabich's large Croatian-American family was knit together at the front of the church, numb with grief.
Smart and dashing, with chairlift-stopping good looks, Spider Sabich was among a small group of professional American skiers who popularized the sport here in the 1960s and '70s.
The crowd assembled to pay last respects included skiing stars, Olympic athletes and childhood friends. Some had watched Sabich grow up on the slopes in nearby Kyburz, Calif.
During the funeral, the Sabich family stole glances at a tiny female figure seated with a small group of her own friends. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief, and now and then her shoulders convulsed.
She was Sabich's girlfriend, the French actress and chanteuse Claudine Longet.
On one hand, she had a right to be there. No one doubted that Spider had once been in love with Longet.
On the other hand, she was utterly out of place. She was, after all, the woman who killed Sabich.
She said it was an accident. His friends and family were not so sure.
A search for the truth would play out over the ensuing year. Before the last breathless gossip was whispered and the final expose written, the Sabich-Longet affair would develop into one of the decade's most riveting celebrity spectacles.