The Tragic Story Of Marlon Brando's Son, Christian Brando

As the first child of the legendary Marlon Brando, Christian Brando had a lot to prove. As the oldest of Marlon's 11 children — and the only with his first wife, Indian-born British actor Anna Kashfi — Christian was the heir of his father's $20 million estate, as The Guardian noted. With fame, money, and privilege on his side, Christian's life could have played out in countless ways. But tragedy seemingly followed Christian wherever he went. Unlike his father, whose name evokes some of the most powerful films of the 20th century, Christian is best known for killing a man and for his involvement in the murder trial of his former girlfriend, Bonny Lee Bakley, as CNN reported.

Christian had a tumultuous childhood, marked by a custody battle, his father's absence and the erratic behavior of his mother who, at one point, reportedly arranged her own child's kidnapping, per The Guardian. After working as a child actor and having small roles in four films as an adult, Christian largely failed to find success in the industry. Just two years after starring in the Italian mafia film "La posta in gioco" (1988), Christian shot and killed his sister Cheyenne's boyfriend, igniting a highly publicized judicial process in which Marlon himself testified, despite his notorious efforts to stay away from the spotlight, as the Los Angeles Times described.

Christian's troubles continued until his untimely death in 2008, at age 49. Keep reading to learn the details of Christian's tragic life.

He was named after his father's alleged lover

Christian Brando might have always been destined for a turbulent life, thanks to his famous parents and their vicious feud. Even his name was a point of contention for Marlon Brando and Anna Kashif after it allegedly became evidence of one of Marlon's affairs.

According to the actor's biographer, the baby was named after the French actor Christian Marquand, a close friend of Marlon for years who was also asked to be the boy's godfather. But Kashfi had her suspicions about the relationship between her husband and Marquand. "Just the way Marlon was talking to him, squirming like a woman," she reportedly observed, telling friends that they had seemed particularly affectionate when Marquand stayed in the couple's Los Angeles home. Eventually, she became convinced that the two men had entered into a sexual tryst.

Kashfi was enraged by the idea that her son was named after Marlon's alleged male lover, so she never called him Christian. According to Christian's ex-wife Deborah Presley, his mother instead referred to him by his middle name, Devi. "His mother would only call him Devi, and his father would only call him Chris or Christian," Presley told The Guardian. "He was so splintered from early on. He didn't have a chance."

Marlon Brando and Anna Kashfi fought for custody

Christian Brando's formative years were marked by a fierce custody dispute between his parents. Marlon Brando and Anna Kashfi lived a whirlwind romance, marrying in 1957 and divorcing in 1959, a year after Christian was born. The former couple went to court in what would become a years-long custody battle, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008. Christian lived with his mother for the first five years after the divorce, but Kashfi's "uncontrollable temper" due to drug and alcohol abuse served as grounds for a judge to revoke her custody rights in 1964, according to the L.A. Times. Marlon would not get custody of Christian until 1972, when he was 13. 

Christian spent those eight years living with his aunt, where he was raised by nannies and sent to boarding school near Los Angeles, per the L.A. Times. "When I got Christian, he was just a basket case of emotional disorders," Marlon said, as described in a separate Los Angeles Times report from 1991. According to the L.A. Times, Marlon said his eldest son started using alcohol and marijuana as a child, a demonstration of how much the custody battle had affected Christian.

Christian found little comfort in life with his father, who was known for his many relationships and many children. "The family kept changing shape. I'd sit down at the breakfast table and say, 'Who are you?'" Christian said of the time, according to The Guardian.

Anna Kashfi allegedly paid to have Christian Brando kidnapped

Christian Brando was 13 years old when he inexplicably found himself in Baja California, Mexico, in 1972. It all started when his mother, Anna Kashfi, picked him up from school in Los Angeles after he set his dorm on fire, according to The Guardian. Kashfi shared custody of Christian with Marlon Brando, but he was in France working on Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris," as the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in 1987. What happened next is not all that clear. 

Per the Sun Sentinel, Kashfi took Christian across the border accompanied by her friend James Wooster, leaving both of them in a hotel room in Baja as she returned to Los Angeles. When she returned to the hotel to retrieve Christian, both boy and Wooster were gone. According to the Sun Sentinel, Kashfi told Mexican police she thought her son had been kidnapped. Marlon hired a private detective to search for Christian, who found Christian with some men and women living in a tent. According to The Guardian, the group told police Kashfi had offered them $10,000 to hide Christian.

Christian developed an interest in guns after the traumatic experience and started buying them as  he was "very, very afraid of being kidnapped again," one of his friends later said, according to The Guardian. After the incident, Marlon was given sole custody of Christian and took him to France as he wrapped up "Last Tango in Paris" (1972).

He started using drugs as a teen

Christian Brando first started taking LSD at age 13, according to the Los Angeles Times, and this early experience with drugs led to a lifetime of substance abuse issues.

Marlon Brando had been granted custody of his son after yet another court battle with Anna Kashfi, so he was the one who had to bail Christian out when he was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1974. The teenager was met by a 15-minute rant from Marlon, according to his biographer, who asked the police officers to back him up. Despite the actor's best attempts to keep his son away from drugs, however, Christian could always find a fix in their star-studded neighborhood by stealing marijuana from locals like Jack Nicholson. "You do that again and I'll break your f***ing fingers, man," the "Easy Rider" star reportedly told him after catching the young man in the act.

His father put him through a detox program at St. John's Hospital, although Christian was thrown out after three days, and he later joined Alcoholics Anonymous after his dependence on cocaine had spiraled into a $500-per-day addiction. During his 1991 criminal trial, Christian spoke about how his mother Anna Kashfi affected his childhood through her addictions, revealing that they hadn't been in contact for three years. "I grew up with an extremely violent mother. She drank and we had a lot of problems," he explained, per the Los Angeles Times. "My whole family, except for my father, is alcoholic."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Christian Brando's 1990 arrest turned the family upside down

The Brando family's world was turned upside down on May 16, 1990, when Christian Brando killed Dag Drollet, the partner of his half-sister, Cheyenne Brando, who was eight months pregnant at the time. They were at Marlon Brando's Beverly Hills home when Christian confronted Drollet over concerns that he was mistreating Cheyenne, per The Guardian. Earlier that night, Cheyenne reportedly told Christian about her boyfriend's violent actions, which motivated him to confront Drollet later, per The Guardian.

In January 1991, Christian agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of being tried for first-degree murder, the Los Angeles Times reported. Prosecutors offered Christian the plea deal after French authorities deemed Cheyenne "mentally incompetent," leading several judges to deny prosecutors' requests to have her testify, per the L.A. Times. During sentencing, Marlon pleaded for reduced time for his son, per the L.A. Times. "I think that perhaps I failed as a father. I'm certain that there were things that I could have done differently, had I known better at the time."

Christian said he went to his father's home carrying his .45 handgun to intimidate Cheyenne's boyfriend. "I did not go into that room to kill Dag Drollet. I just wanted to scare him," Christian told the L.A. Times. Christian said he and Drollet fought over said gun, causing it to go off. Cheyenne's subsequent diagnosis made Christian question her claims about Drollet. "I feel like a complete chump for believing her," he added.

Christian Brando's prison sentence wasn't the last of his troubles with the law

After pleading guilty, Christian Brando was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served five for good behavior. But that wouldn't be his last brush with the law. A few years later, Brando saw himself embroiled in another murder scandal, this time that of his own girlfriend, Bonny Lee Bakley. The two were in a relationship when Bakley began seeing actor Robert Blake in 1999, according to Good Morning America.

When Bakley got pregnant, she believed Brando was the father and named the baby Christian Shannon Brando, per TruTV. She later admitted being unsure who the girl's father was, prompting Blake to request a paternity test. Upon discovering he was the father, Blake married Bakley in November and the baby was renamed Rose Lenore Blake. When Blake was accused of killing Bakley outside of an Italian restaurant in May 2001, Brando became implicated.

During a pre-trial hearing, Diane Mattson, who worked for Brando, claimed Brando said to a hitman that "we need to put a bullet into Bonny Lee Bakley's head," according to CNN. In a recorded conversation with Bakley, Brando told her she was "lucky somebody ain't out there to put a bullet in your head," per CNN. However, a judge dismissed Brando's link to the case as speculation in 2004, according to the BBC. He testified in 2005, but Christian invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He had a difficult relationship with his father

Although the world loved Marlon Brando for his movie star charisma and talent, Christian Brando often found his big personality difficult. "When Christian is near his father, he seems to shrink, he becomes a gnat," film producer Carmine De Benedittis once observed, per The Guardian. "He seems to be crushed by the force of his father's character."

"Marlon was the absentee father, gone a lot of the time," one of Christian's friends later revealed, according to Marlon's biographer, adding that he would occasionally reappear in his son's life and either lecture him or give him expensive presents, like his own Los Angeles house. After Christian was arrested as a teenager for firing his rifle at an abandoned building, he phoned one of Marlon's employees instead of his father. "Just go inside and let me out, because he'll kill me," he reportedly begged her, via Entertainment Weekly, explaining that Marlon had frequently hit him.

They had various conflicts throughout Christian's adolescence, especially when the acting titan set up recording equipment in his son's bedroom. "I thought I was so very clever, but I was not so clever," Marlon admitted after the teenager found him out. Christian also began secretly sleeping with his father's girlfriend, Jill Banner, and their two-year affair caused a huge uproar when it was exposed.

Christian Brando was charged with spousal abuse

In October 2004, Christian Brando married Deborah Presley, a woman who claims to be Elvis Presley's illegitimate daughter, but it lasted only three months, according to The Guardian. It ended when authorities pressed charges against him for spousal abuse after Presley was admitted to a hospital with injuries she claimed Brando caused, the report detailed. He was sentenced to three years probation after pleading no contest to two charges, per the BBC. He was also ordered to receive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse and take part in a domestic abuse prevention program.

In 2005, Presley sued Brando for domestic violence, contending he physically abused and threatened her with death, the BBC reported. Brando countersued his ex-wife, alleging Presley had broken into his home and severely beaten him because he wanted to annul their marriage just weeks after exchanging vows, per the report.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

He died as an 'indigent'

In January 2008, Christian Brando died from pneumonia in a public hospital as an "indigent," per The Guardian. He was 49 and had been admitted to the intensive care unit of the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center two weeks earlier, as TMZ had reported. "This is a sad and difficult time for the family," his attorney stated, via ABC News. The family also revealed that Brando had been in a coma at the time of his death and doctors had placed him on a ventilator, hinting at the severity of his illness.

His father, who had died three-and-a-half years earlier, would have been horrified at the circumstances of his oldest child's death, said George Englund, an old friend of Marlon Brando. "There's an old saying: 'When two elephants fight, the grass is wounded.' That's the way I see Christian," Englund explained to The Guardian, referring to the custody battle between Marlon and Anna Kashfi. "He was the wounded grass on which two ferocious elephants fought all those years."

His family warred over his death

Christian Brando's death didn't bring an end to the familial chaos that had followed him throughout his life. In the aftermath of his illness and eventual death at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, his surviving relatives couldn't come to a consensus over how Brando's lifestyle had led to his pneumonia. His ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, half-siblings, and mother disagreed over all the postmortem arrangements, including whether an autopsy should be performed to investigate the circumstances of his death.

His ex-wife, Deborah Presley, was particularly disturbed by the fact that he hadn't been hospitalized sooner and had no health insurance at the time of his death in a public hospital. "Marlon had always said that whoever was going to be in charge of the estate had to know the dynamics of the family," Presley told The Guardian, claiming that Christian had been the actor's top priority. "Marlon wanted Christian to always have a roof over his head. And he was always supposed to have health insurance. Marlon knew Christian couldn't take care of himself." As CBS News reported, the Los Angeles County coroner's office began an autopsy, but it was inconclusive.