An ongoing enquiry started in 2015 | Contents
Last updated in September 2019
‘Nice presentation and analysis of competing facts and explanations… excellent evidentiary compilation’
Jane, commenter and lawyer
‘You’ve put work into the research’
Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone writer who interviewed Jackson Browne in 1994 about the incident
‘Very thorough and well researched’
Alan Nierob, Daryl Hannah’s press agent at the time of the incident
Who did it?
The autism factor
The cocaine factor
The 1992 People article
The 1994 US interview
The three ‘uncle’ letters to US
– The letter to US from Hannah’s uncle
– Browne’s open reply and the police ‘statement’
– Browne’s reply to Hannah’s uncle; a deal made?
Why didn’t Hannah’s uncle go to the police?
Did the police see Hannah during their visit?
Was there a police investigation?
The 2003 defamation claims
Some peripheral information
I love Jackson Browne’s music, especially his wonderful 1974 album, Late for the Sky. Back in the day, friends who liked the likes of Captain Beefheart scoffed at Browne’s supposed fey lightness, but I liked them both, Beefheart and Browne. (There’s an excellent account of Browne’s musical career from the early 70s to the mid 00s on PopDose.)
I was going to take my (uninitiated) wife to see Browne on his 2014 UK tour, but the rumour of domestic abuse put me off.
I thought I’d check it out. I’ve been doing that – from time to time – for over two years. This post is about what I’ve found out. (Summary: not much – there’s smoke, but no fire.)
In a 1993 interview with the LA Times, Browne said, ‘I’m not going to provide the actual details of what did happen, because it’s not anybody’s business.’
Its understandable that he’d say that – but he’s wrong. Because of his fame, it’s the business of anyone who cares about his music, and who cares about domestic violence.
On 23 September 1992 Browne and Hannah were at their house in Santa Monica, California. It was the sad end of their long – if occasionally rocky – relationship.
Hannah was leaving Browne for John F Kennedy Jr and had come to collect some belongings. Apparently, there was a row, and some kind of altercation.
Browne called the police at some point, supposedly to report someone ransacking his house. When they arrived, Browne supposedly told them that everything was fine. The police left. It’s not clear if they saw or spoke to Hannah.
Apparently Hannah then left the house and called her sister, who took her to a local hospital where she was treated by a doctor for injuries reportedly including bruises on her face and ribs, and a broken finger.
Who did it?
Hannah made no complaint to the police. Browne wasn’t arrested or charged with any offence. So how did Hannah get those injuries?
Hannah’s spokesman told the press on the day of the incident:
‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’
That carefully worded statement’s a fine example of the dark art practised by a skilled press agent. It might seem to imply that Browne inflicted the injuries, but it doesn’t actually say so.
Browne has strongly denied causing Hannah’s injuries but has never publicly explained what happened.
In a 1994 interview with the magazine US (see below), Browne, apparently referring to Hannah’s long-term fragile emotional state (possibly her autism – see below), said, somewhat Biblically, that his reason for not explaining what happened was that it’d be ‘a breach of faith in a covenant that is many, many years old‘ .
Apparently, Hannah has never publicly withdrawn the implied accusation.
I asked Hannah’s then spokesman, Alan Nierob, if he still held that position and, if so, if he’d ask Hannah to publicly say what happened. Nierob said that he no longer represents Hannah. I asked him what really happened. He hasn’t replied.
The autism factor
Hannah has revealed that she was diagnosed with autism as a child. Adults with autism, including those with high functioning autism, can go through rage cycles due to a build-up of anger, which can be expressed as destruction of property, self-injury and causing injuries to others. After the episode there’s often a denial of rage and withdrawal into a fantasy that it didn’t happen.
People with high functioning autism can control their anger and rage in their professions and at social functions and activities outside the home.
If Browne’s denial is true, perhaps Hannah had an autistic rage episode, and that’s why he didn’t want to explain what really happened.
The cocaine factor
Browne has spoken about his use of cocaine. (He even recorded a song about it.) In the 80s and 90s many wealthy creatives had a chronic habit. Perhaps Browne and Hannah were a user-couple. Perhaps Hannah found that cocaine helped with her autistic shyness.
Cocaine’s a very moreish and ultimately addictive drug. It can produce psychiatric symptoms including violence. Perhaps on that sad occasion they had a line or two for old times’ sake, and things turned bad…
The 1992 People article
One month after the incident an October 1992 article in celebrity magazine People, quoting numerous anonymous ‘friends‘, reported that:
- A press statement made on the day of the incident by Hannah’s spokesman said: ‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’
- A ‘close friend’ of Hannah’s said that Browne caused her injuries.
- Browne’s manager, Donald Miller, said that the incident couldn’t have happened because he was with Browne at an LA recording studio at the time.
- ‘Browne supporters’ said that he was defending himself against Hannah. Browne’s friend, the singer JD Souther, said, ‘He was getting chased around by her.’
- A ‘friend’ said, ‘This has happened before, but never this bad.’
- A Santa Monica police officer, Sgt Gary Gallinot, said that Browne called the station complaining that someone was ransacking his home.
- ‘Friends of Hannah’ said that Hannah was not ransacking, but hiding in the guest house in fear of Browne. Friends said, ‘He goes into blind rages and doesn’t know what he does. He was trying to kick the door down. A ‘friend’ said: ‘He has an explosive personality.’
- Gallinot said that Browne told the two attending officers, ‘Everything is fine’; that they never saw Hannah, and as there were no signs of distress, the men left and did not file a report.
- Hannah’s ‘friends’ said that she then left the house and called her sister, who took her to a local doctor to have her injuries treated.
- An ‘associate of Browne’ said, ‘He’s not the macho type…it sounds completely out of character.’
- Hannah did not plan to press charges.
- ‘Friends of Browne’ said that he’d gone to northern California and was keeping a low profile.
- A ‘friend of Hannah’ said that she certainly wouldn’t be going back to her home in Santa Monica or to Jackson Browne: ‘We would never let her do that again.’
The 1994 US interview
In an excellent February 1994 interview in classy monthly film and music magazine US, Browne opened up to music journalist Fred Schruers (better known as a writer for sister publication Rolling Stone).
Browne’s denial in this interview apparently provoked the letter to US from Hannah’s uncle (see below). In the interview:
- Browne strongly denied assaulting Hannah.
- He denounced the People article (above) as lies orchestrated by Hannah’s publicist.
- Schruers wrote that Hannah’s press agent denied this; and that People’s managing editor said that they stood by the story and the publicist had nothing to do with the story’s conclusion.
- Browne denied the People article’s claim that the police didn’t see Hannah during their visit. He said that the police spoke to them both for ‘a long time‘.
- Schruers quoted Santa Monica police officer Sgt Gary Gallinot as saying, ‘A male and female officer went to the house. It was an argument, what we call a family disturbance, and when we left, everything was OK. [Hannah] never made indications she was assaulted…if there are any signs of domestic violence, we take a report, but in this instance there were no signs. It could have happened later, but she never filed charges.’ (My bolding)
- Browne denied that he was laying low after the incident as implied by the People report. He pointed out that he was gigging regularly at that time.
- Browne said that he wouldnt say what happened because it would be ‘a breach of faith in a covenant that is many, many years old‘. He was apparently referring to Hannah’s autism.
- Referring to Jerrold Wexler, stepfather to Hannah since she was eight years old, Browne said that at the time of the incident, ‘Daryl’s father was dying. She was under tremendous pressure, had been caring for him for over a month in hospital. So she was in very fragile shape.’
- Referring to Hannah’s family, Browne said that since the incident he’d been ‘banished from the kingdom, from the monarchy that her family resembles‘
The three ‘uncle’ letters to US
Following the February 1994 interview with Browne (see above) in monthly film and music magazine US, in April 1994 the magazine published three letters about the incident: a letter of angry accusation by Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, and two letters of angry denial by Browne.
The letter to US from Hannah’s uncle
The first of the three letters in the April 1994 US was from Hannah’s uncle, the late Hollywood player Haskell Wexler. Haskell was the brother of Hannah’s stepfather, Jerrold Wexler, who was seriously ill at the time of the incident, and who died not long after. Wexler wrote:
‘I am Haskell Wexler, Daryl Hannah’s uncle. I am, also, a longtime friend of Jackson Browne and admirer of his artistry. I am no longer his friend.
‘Jackson beat Daryl in September 1992. I was with her in the hospital. I saw the ugly black bruises on her eye and chin and on her ribs. The examining doctor reported she had blood in her urine. The doctor was shocked by the severity and noted Daryl as “a badly battered woman”. I photographed her at the hospital.
‘It could be that nobody cares about objective truth anymore. Jackson is a “good guy,” and good guys don’t beat women. Yes, it is hard to listen to Jackson and believe he has a hidden side of violence.
‘I saw the results of the last violent attack on my niece, and there is no spin of fancy which will erase my shock and disdain for someone who would beat her up.’
Browne’s open reply to US and the police ‘statement’
In the same April 1994 edition, immediately after Wexler’s letter, US published two replies from Browne repeating his denial. A US preamble said:
‘Jackson Browne asked to respond with two letters. One general response, and one addressed specifically to Mr Wexler.’
In his open letter of general response, Browne, apparently referring to the February 1994 US interview, wrote:
‘It appears that Haskell Wexler has taken exception to your having printed my assertion that much that was said about this affair in the tabloids and in the media is untrue.’
Browne’s letter criticised the 1992 People report for saying that the police didn’t see Hannah during their house call. He ended the letter by reproducing a defensive and somewhat rambling ‘statement’ by a Santa Monica police officer.
Browne gave no contextual information for this statement other than the officer’s rank and name, and the month it was made: Lt John Miehle, November 1992. This is the statement:
‘The Santa Monica Police Department went to the house where Jackson Browne lives regarding a possible disturbance. We resolved the situation in about five minutes. There was never any assault. There are no charges pending and no prosecution sought by or intended by the District Attorney. It is this department’s intention that no citizen, regardless of who she is, suffer any kind of abuse, whether it be domestic violence or any other kind of assault. But in this case, absolutely no assault occurred. Our investigators tell us nothing happened. Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched. If they had, we’d be investigating. We’re not hiding anything. The press is trying to make more out of this than there really is, and it’s unfair, not just to Browne, but to us. We did our job, and repeat, no crime occurred here. This whole thing is ridiculous.’
Presumably Browne thought that this ‘statement’ supported his case, but it actually raises more questions:
- Ending with ‘This whole thing is ridiculous‘, it’s clearly not the usual carefully worded press statement made by the police. It sounds like something said spontaneously by the officer, perhaps in frustrated response to questioning by a journalist. It sounds as if it was recorded and transcribed. How did the officer come to make that statement?
- Did the ‘investigators‘ who said that ‘nothing happened‘ question Hannah and check the medical evidence? Or were those ‘investigators’ the officers who went to the house and ‘resolved the situation in about five minutes‘?
- Given the events, how could the police, apparently without conducting a formal investigation, be so sure that ‘no assault occurred’?
- ‘Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched‘. It may be that no allegations were made to the police, but what about Hannah’s spokesman saying, ‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne’?
- Given that the police visited the house because of a reported disturbance, and given Hannah’s press statement made later the same day, why didn’t the police formally investigate the incident?
- Regardless of the ‘department’s intention‘, did male rock stars get a free pass for reported domestic abuse in Santa Monica in the early 90s when no complaint was made to the police, even if the female involved was a film star?
I asked the Santa Monica Police Department about Lt Miehle’s ‘statement’. They said they had no record of the incident or of any statement made; and that Miehle had retired. I asked retired Capt Miele about his statement. He hasn’t replied.
Browne’s reply to Hannah’s uncle; a deal made?
Browne’s second letter in the April 1994 edition of US was a direct reply to Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler.
Browne agreed that they were no longer friends. He said that Wexler hadn’t allowed him to explain what happened, but had joined the attack on his reputation and character in which many untrue things were said, some of which Wexler must have known were untrue; and that Wexler had added his own incorrect and damning assumptions.
Browne said that Hannah’s decision not to press charges was not taken out of generosity but for her own reasons. It meant that he’d been subject to trial by media, ‘where anything can be said and nothing has to be proven’.
Browne, addressing Wexler, wrote:
‘I suggest that you allow me to describe Daryl’s actions to you and then judge for yourself as to how those injuries may have occurred. I repeat: I did not beat her.
‘I have no desire to expose Daryl to public scrutiny in this matter. I have avoided describing her actions or characterizing her behavior so far. It has been hard. I would have preferred to talk to you a year ago. Basically, I believe that Daryl has a right to the support and belief of her family and friends. However, you leave me no choice but to respond to your public accusations.’
Perhaps, under this threat of exposure, Wexler allowed Browne to give his explanation. Perhaps he found Browne’s explanation plausible. Perhaps Wexler then did a deal with Browne: he’d drop the accusation; Browne would never say what happened – he’d keep his ‘covenant‘. (See Who did it?, above.)
Obviously, that’s speculation – but it would explain why, after all that hot air, they both suddenly and completely clammed up (apart from Browne’s occasional pained denials).
Haskell Wexler died in 2015.
Why didn’t Hannah’s uncle go to the police?
The police ‘statement’ included in Browne’s open letter to US (above) said, ‘no one alleged that Hannah was assaulted‘, presumably meaning that no assault was reported to the police. This begs the question: why didn’t Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, go to the police after seeing his injured niece and believing Browne to be responsible?
Wexler’s letter to US said that he photographed Hannah’s injuries. The letter showed that he was very angry. He was clearly a high-status resident who wouldn’t have hesitated to make a complaint – so why didn’t he?
The reason must be that Hannah persuaded him not to. Perhaps she told her uncle that she couldn’t face the publicity a possible trial would bring, or that she wanted to protect Browne.
However, if Browne didn’t assault her, perhaps Hannah’s real concern was to protect herself from the truth that a police investigation might uncover.
Did the police see Hannah during their visit?
As regards whether the police who visited the house saw Hannah, the 1992 People report said:
‘Since there were no visible signs of distress – [the police] never saw Hannah, says Gallinot [*] – the men [sic] left and did not file a report.’
*Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt Gary Gallinot
In the 1994 US interview with Fred Schruers, Browne, specifically criticising the People report, said:
‘…the story that I sent the police away, that they never spoke to Daryl, [is] completely untrue. The officers did speak with Daryl, and they spoke with both of us for a long time…They basically said: “Look, you’re having an argument. Just cool it.”‘
Schruers then quoted Gallinot as saying:
‘A male and female officer went to the house – it was an argument, what we call a family disturbance, and when we left, everything was OK. [Hannah] never made indications she was assaulted…if there are any signs of domestic violence, we take a report, but in this instance there were no signs. It could have happened later, but she never filed charges.’
So according to the People report, Gallinot said that the police didn’t see Hannah when they visited the house; but in the US interview, Browne said that the police spoke to Hannah; and Gallinot was reported as saying that Hannah didn’t indicate that she’d been assaulted, implying that the police did see her.
In his open letter to US, Browne, apparently referring first to the 1992 People article and then to the 1994 US interview, wrote:
‘…much that was said about this affair in the tabloids and in the media is untrue. Particularly that the police came to our house and I sent them away without their having spoken to Daryl. Further, Fred Schruers actually checked it out with the police, and that’s more than the other writers that I made the same assertion to were able to do.’
I asked Schruers about this. He said he vaguely remembers speaking to the district attorney or possibly the police.
I asked the Santa Monica city attorney’s office about it. They said they have no record of the incident; they only keep closed domestic violence files for 15 years.
I asked the Los Angeles district attorney and Santa Monica Police Department Sgt (now Capt) Gallinot about their involvement with the incident. The LA DA’s office said they have no record of the incident. Gallinot hasn’t replied.
Was there a police investigation?
There should have been a full investigation. According to lawyer, fan and forum contributor ‘Laura‘ it was the practice in California at that time (and still is) to investigate – and, if appropriate, to prosecute – cases of apparent domestic violence even if no complaint was made to the police.
(‘Laura’ thinks that this proves Browne’s innocence: there must have been an investigation – which, as no charges were made, must have exonerated Browne.)
The October 1992 People article reported Hannah’s press release about her injuries, issued on the day of the incident. Presumably the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) would have been aware of that public statement. The call-out to the house and Hannah’s press release made later the same day should have prompted the police to launch an investigation.
However, it looks as though there was no investigation. The People article, apparently relying on information from SMPD press information officer Sgt Gallinot, said that the officers who visited the house didn’t file a report.
Also, if there had been a follow-up investigation, the defensive ‘statement’ by SMPD Lt Miehle (made, according to Browne, in November 1992) would surely have mentioned it. But the ‘statement’ didn’t say there was an investigation – it referred only to the ‘investigators‘ who ‘resolved the situation in about five minutes‘. It said:
‘Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched. If they had, we’d be investigating.’
So how come there was no investigation? As ever, cock-up is the most likely explanation but conspiracy is always a possibility.
According to the People report, Browne’s manager Donald Miller gave him a false alibi, saying that Browne was with him at a recording studio at the time of the incident. Presumably Miller thought things looked bad for his friend and client and was trying to fix it. Did Mr Fixit then somehow persuade the police not to investigate?
(Miller was production manager for the 1977 album/tour Running On Empty. He co-wrote with Browne the frustrated roadie’s ode to masturbation, Rosie, an oddly coarse song that was part of that album’s account of life and camaraderie on the road. Perhaps the members of that tour made a bond of loyalty.)
I asked Miller if it’s true that he gave Browne that alibi, and if so, why? I also asked him if he somehow persuaded the police not to investigate. He hasn’t replied.
I asked the SMPD about their response to the incident. They said they were unable to find any record of the incident. They said that if there had been a record, it would presumably have been deleted.
(Case types exempt from deletion apparently include unsolved cases of severe violence. So, if there had been a follow-up police investigation in addition to the five-minute visit, the record might have been deleted, depending on whether the case was considered solved or not; and if not, how severe the alleged violence was considered to be.)
The 2003 defamation claims
Fox Television Studios, makers of a TV movie about John F Kennedy Jr, and the Gurin Company, makers of a documentary about celebrity paparazzi, both agreed to remove scenes referring to Browne and the alleged assault on Hannah.
Browne then said in a statement:
‘I never assaulted Daryl Hannah, and this fact was confirmed by the investigation conducted at the time by the Santa Monica Police Department.’
Browne, faced with the damaging rumour, seems to have resorted to a delusional faith in the police’s so-called investigation. The powerful and well lawyered Fox company must have seen the holes in Browne’s police ‘statement’, but perhaps decided not to bother with what would have been a difficult and high-profile defence.
Fox and the Gurin Company both added an identically worded apology to the start of their movies, in which they said:
‘…local authorities have reported to the media that based upon their investigation, the incident previously reported in our program did not occur.’
I asked Fox, Gurin, Iser and Jensen if that’s a reference to Browne’s police ‘statement’, or, if not, which ‘local authorities’ investigated the incident and reported to the media that Browne didn’t assault Hannah.
None of them have replied. I think it’s safe to assume that that part of the film companies’ identical statements is a pompous, puffed-up reference to Browne’s rubbish police ‘statement’.
Some peripheral information
Blue and Black – black and blue?
Given the yearning sincerity of the lyrics, it might seem unlikely – but is there perhaps an incongruously dark wordplay in Sky Blue and Black’s title/refrain. Blue and black – black and blue? Could master wordsmith Browne have been unaware of that?
Not to blame indeed
The song’s misinformed scattergun attack – by a spurned lover who apparently still carried a torch for Browne – implied that Browne was a serial abuser who was to blame for the suicide and suicide attempts of previous partners, including Mitchell’s own attempt; and that he never accepts responsibility for the damage he does, but always says he’s not to blame.
This smear seems to have been inspired by pure spite with no substance. Browne’s relationship history shows not that he was an abusive man who drove women to suicide, but rather that he was attracted to troubled women. (Perhaps Browne, being a sensitive artist, was a troubled man – but that doesn’t make him abusive.)
This was a low point for Mitchell. I’d like to think she’s better than that. Her best songs have a sublime magic. Her artistry (if not her style) is indeed comparable to Van Gogh’s. However, even geniuses have off-days.
(Apparently, Browne’s exquisite song Fountain of Sorrow was a reflection on his brief relationship with Mitchell.)
Kennedy on Hannah
There are some useful sources of information out there:
- The surprisingly (to me) in-depth October 1992 news report by US celebrity magazine People, published about a month after the event – hotly contested by Browne (in the interview listed below) as fake information – but stoutly defended by People as genuine
- A scan of the February 1994 interview with classy US film and music magazine US (not to be confused with its later trashy celeb mag version, US Weekly) nicely written by music journalist Fred Schruers, in which Browne opens up on the incident (albeit without saying what happened)
- A scan of the three April 1994 ‘uncle’ letters in US
- An interesting forum discussion on the subject
- Another one – with the post by lawyer ‘Laura‘
- A 2016 piece in the US online OnStage Magazine by assignment editor and stage photographer Larry Philpot, with a good summary of the available evidence (albeit with a pro-Browne bias)
The uncle letters to US and the JFK Jr interview transcript (see above) are reproduced in the forums and in the OnStage article.
In his OnStage piece, Philpot writes that as a longtime friend of David Linley (Browne’s genius-collaborator and close friend) and as a stage photographer who’s looked many times into Browne’s (famously soulful) eyes, he can’t believe that Browne could have assaulted Hannah.
The OnStage article says that Hannah has denied several times that Browne hit her. I’ve come across this claim elsewhere but haven’t found any evidence. I asked Philpot if there’s any evidence that Hannah has publicly made that denial. He hasn’t replied.
Back in 2014 when I started writing this, I couldn’t find any definite answers, so I didn’t take my wife to the concert. It wouldn’t have felt right, especially as my wife suffered domestic abuse in her previous marriage.
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (ie, a definite answer). It still matters to me, 27 years on from 1992, because I love Jackson Browne’s music – it speaks to something in my soul – but the unresolved rumour makes it a tainted love.
It apparently also matters to the 20k-plus people who’ve found and read – or, at least, looked at – this post.
Can we – should we – separate the artist from the art? Maybe not – or not completely. I’d overlook a lot of bad behaviour in an artist whose art I admire, but not domestic abuse – nor, as in this case, a persistent rumour of domestic abuse that the artist refuses to resolve.
Separating the life from the art is especially dificult with a singer-songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve. So I didn’t take my wife to Browne’s 2017 tour either – and we won’t be going to the 2019 tour.
Should Browne’s denial be accepted? I’d like to accept it. I’ve checked out the rumour as I set out to do, and, for what it’s worth, my opinion is that – his dodgy police ‘statement’ notwithstanding – Browne probably didn’t assault Hannah.
I think that Hannah might have had an autistic rage episode during which either she inflicted the injuries on herself, or she attacked Browne and was injured when he defended himself.
At five foot eleven, Hannah was the same height as Browne. A former gymnast and dancer and, at 32, twelve years younger than Browne, she might well have been a match for the skinny high-school wrestler.
We’ll probably never know why there was no proper police investigation or why Browne’s manager gave him a false alibi. However, I’d still like to know exactly how Hannah got those injuries. Browne says it’s none of our business. I disagree. Here’s to truths yet to be known.
I wanted to ask Browne and Hannah what happened. I couldn’t find direct contact information, so I asked their representatives to ask their clients to say what happened, or to say whatever they wanted. I said I’d publish whatever they said.
Browne’s representatives – his lawyer and publicist – haven’t replied. They’ve got form for ignoring such requests. However, Hannah’s entertainment attorney, Lawrence Kopeikin, replied immediately to say, ‘Please do not contact Ms. Hannah or myself again.’
How rude! Was it something I said? Actually, I think may have (politely) made the same query, possibly via Mr K, some time ago, got no reply, and had forgotten about it. At least I got a reply this time.
Having got nowhere with their representatives, I’ll ask Browne and Hannah directly. (You never know – they might read this.)
If you did it, Jackson, ‘fess up – it’s good for the soul, they say. If you didn’t, please explain it. Whatever covenant or deal you made, maybe it’s time to tell the truth and shame the devil. You’ve been trapped too long under a dark cloud of suspicion. The truth will set you free – at last.
It would be even better if Hannah told us what really happened that day. C’mon, Daryl – what have you got to lose?