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.

Marlon Brando and Anna Kashfi fought in court over Christian's 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 paid to have Christian Brando kidnapped when he was 13

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 of "hippies" 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 Paris as he wrapped up "Last Tango in Paris" (1972).

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 "scare" 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 trigger. 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.

Christian Brando was charged with spousal abuse and died as an 'indigent'

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 "savagely beaten" him because he wanted to annul their marriage 10 weeks after exchanging vows, per the report.

In January 2008, Brando died from pneumonia in a public hospital as an "indigent," per The Guardian. He was 49. His father, who had died three years earlier, would have been horrified at the circumstances of his oldest child's death, said George Englund, an old friend of Marlon Brando's. "There's an old saying: 'When two elephants fight, the grass is wounded.' That's the way I see Christian," Englund explained, referring to the custody battle between Marlon and Anna Kashfi. "He was the wounded grass on which two ferocious elephants fought all those years."