We mourn the death of Olivia Newton-John. She was a pleasant singer and actress, an icon to a certain generation of fans who grew up with her, most after she made the transition from British-born Aussie country singer to pop star, the little girls wanting to be her, young boys wanting to be with her – and even more boys wanting to be her. Now that she’s gone, after a long and valiant battle with cancer, Olivia Newton-John is receiving well-deserved honors, but she has left this plane with a mystery that dangles and clouds her legacy. It’s a mystery partially of her own making, a question left unanswered:
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PATRICK MCDERMOTT?
Patrick Kim McDermott was a cameraman and supposedly Newton-John’s lover of nine years when he disappeared from an overnight trip on a fishing charter boat off San Pedro, California, on June 30, 2005. He’d left some of his belongings including his wallet, on the boat named Freedom. He’d left his car in the parking lot at the 22nd Street Marina. McDermott had been gone more than seven weeks before an eagle-eyed reporter made the connection and let police and the U.S. Coast Guard know that the missing 48-year-old Korean-American was the boyfriend of the 56-year-old international superstar.
During those seven long weeks, Olivia Newton-John neither reported McDermott missing nor made any public appeal to find him, in case he was in a hospital or wandering with amnesia. Newton-John had been back and forth between Malibu and Australia, where she’d made public appearances and went about business preparing an album release and tour.
On that Sunday morning in August when the story broke, I stood outside the Coast Guard base in San Pedro with a few other journalists as the spokesman said his people didn’t know if Patrick McDermott was dead or alive — but that they suspected he’d taken a runner — faked his death because of money troubles!
First question: How could Olivia Newton-John’s live-in lover have money troubles?
It was McDermott’s ex-wife, and mother of his thirteen-year-old son, who’d reported McDermott missing, a week after his disappearance. McDermott had been divorced from Yvette Nipar for a dozen years, yet she was still part of his life, and had recently taken him to court over unpaid child support. My colleague, investigative reporter Doug Bruckner, found out in short order that McDermott had filed for bankruptcy, and lived not in Newton-John’s Malibu pleasuredome, but in a small house in Van Nuys, the low-rent porn capital in the Valley. He also found Nipar, who wasn’t talking.
Soon after we got on the story, Newton-John released a statement urging help in finding her “treasured friend” and went into mournful “seclusion.” But within days, she brought in Hollywood security expert Gavin de Becker, and the spin campaign began. Friends and nephew Emerson Newton-John (son of Olivia’s sister Rona — and Jeff Conaway’s stepson) told stories that painted Newton-John as leader of the search effort, explained away her seven weeks of public bliss, and revealed the slow fade of the relationship because of McDermott’s drinking.
For Newton-John, the mourning period was about as swift as Pat O’Brien’s rehabilitation from sex and drug addiction. Despite earlier indications, she carried on with her album promotion, as a deal was made for softball, no-hard-questions interview segments on Good Morning America and other “news” outlets. She returned to the stage, carried on with her tour, and in November even made tabloid headlines with an alleged $9,000 lunch at a New York City eatery with her longtime friend, the “asexual” Brit singer Cliff Richard.
As weeks passed, Patrick McDermott quickly became old news, another tragic episode in the brave “Livvie” saga. The police and Coast Guard said they had no clues, but began leaning toward suicide, allowing them to close the book, at least with a bookmark sticking out, on this latest chapter of Hollywood Babylon.
McDermott committed suicide, ran away because of his debts, or simply slipped off the boat? And why did Olivia Newton-John act as she did during those seven weeks? We’d come up with a few theories. Either Newton-John didn’t know he was missing — or she helped him abscond to a place like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Because Patrick McDermott was a beard. An employee. A big, strong, handsome man whose job it was to be at her side at premieres, in articles, and Hollywood myth, for a number of reasons that go beyond what she did in her private life. Patrick McDermott played his part, and then drove home to Van Nuys.
In tabloid circles, Olivia Newton-John had been rumored to be a lesbian, even before she camped it up with John Travolta in Grease. She blamed the rumors on a Tonight Show appearance back in the 1970s, when her innocent comment about having “girlfriends” caused Johnny Carson to arch an eyebrow.
But her real troubles began in 1980, when a stalker named Ralph Nau came into her life. Convinced that Newton-John loved him, Nau started following the star. Four years later, he tried to join her onstage in Los Angeles and followed to Australia. Then he beat his autistic brother to death. At last check, he remained in a mental institution.
Newton-John first hired celebrity security specialist Gavin de Becker and his team in 1983, when another stalker, Michael Perry, was found near her home. De Becker’s people convinced Perry to get out of town and out of state. Perry went home to Louisiana, slaughtered five members of his own family and left a note suggesting that Newton-John might be next. De Becker whisked her into hiding; Perry was caught and remains on Death Row.
Late in 1984, Olivia Newton-John married a young actor named Matt Lattanzi. Lattanzi, eleven years her junior, had been discovered by director George Cukor for the movie Rich & Famous. They had a daughter and lived a mostly private life, until 1995, when, after a bout with breast cancer and bankruptcy, Newton-John and Lattanzi divorced. Soon, Patrick McDermott became the man at her side. A handsome tough guy you wouldn’t want to mess with.
Patrick McDermott played his role for the Hollywood machine. He provided perfect cover for Olivia-Newton John, from People magazine to the Enquirer to Entertainment Tonight. But after he disappeared, and the elements of a textbook Hollywood scandal and cover-up began taking shape in plain sight on three continents, few made the effort to follow up. There were albums to promote, and awards to give out. Olivia Newton-John moved on, with a rich new boyfriend to be seen with in public, and an unpleasant episode was pushed aside.
The story remained dormant until February 2006, when Olivia Newton-John’s spin machine clicked into the whitewash cycle. In a blitz of long-distance interviews with Australian news media, Newton-John used the McDermott mystery to promote her new album and concert tour.
Newton-John “will use her upcoming Sydney shows as a form of therapy for dealing with the disappearance of her boyfriend last year,” the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported in an article headlined Liv’s show of strength. “She was,” however, “reluctant to discuss any details about McDermott or speculation she has found love with wealthy American Michael Klein.”
The Brisbane Courier-Mail, Seven News and Contactmusic.com were among the outlets spreading the Newton-John spin. “I didn’t think I was going to be singing again, that was how I felt,” Newton-John told the Courier-Mail (though her concert plans were underway in the seven weeks she was quiet about McDermott’s disappearance). “But I found that performing the songs and singing for people helped me as well.”
Newton-John pointed out that the title of her new album, Stronger Than Before, “is kind of ironic. The weird thing was that this album was before all that happened so now it is almost like I have made it for myself.” She dedicated the album to people who have been touched by cancer, marking thirteen years since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
And then, in March 2006, I attended the 60th annual Fred Hall Fishing Tackle & Boat Show in Long Beach, California, just miles from where McDermott was last seen on a charter fishing boat.
“Patrick McDermott Is Alive!”
Folks who worked for the 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro and its popular sportfishing boat, Freedom, were staffing a booth at the show. They were also holding a raffle for a fishing trip on the Freedom, the boat from which McDermott had disappeared. I mentioned his name.
“Oh, he’s definitely alive,” one of them replied. “There have been sightings. Lots of them. He’s been seen in the Baja. In Todos Santos.”
“He’s definitely alive,” another insisted. “Police know it. (He and Olivia Newton-John) broke up in January. He owed a lot of alimony and child support, so he faked his death.”
The Freedom staffer discounted the theories that McDermott was lost at sea or in hiding in Australia. “No. No way. The Baja. They know it. He was seen in Todos Santos. There have been sightings.”
Todos Santos is a quaint town on the west coast of the lower Baja peninsula, about one hour north of Cabo San Lucas. Its mostly dirt streets are home to more than 6,000 inhabitants, including artists, surfers, and retirees. While it has attracted more residents and tourists, the town generally has escaped the influx of tourism. And while its fishing waters are exceptional, Todos Santos was not known as a fishing town.
According to a promotional website: “Some come to surf the many fine breaks that the area offers. Some come to view the amazing variety of original art in the local galleries. Some come to experience the Tropic of Cancer and the iridescent sunsets. Some come to walk the nearly deserted beaches, not yet developed, no condos to be found. Some come to absorb the gentle pace– the slow persistent calming pace of life. “Some come to visit, and never leave.”
I published a story of the fishing show revelations online. Within weeks, the McDermott story was back in play internationally. E! True Hollywood Story included the mystery in an episode about Olivia Newton-John. They didn’t get an interview with her, but they spoke to Frank Liversedge, manager of the 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro, where the Freedom is docked: “The period of time where Patrick supposedly disappeared on the boat, all the people were facing the stern part of the boat, the crew was back here in the back working,” he said. “And you can see this standing right here– there’s no way anyone could go over the side or into the water without someone seeing them.”
Lt. Tony Migliorini, the public information officer at the U.S. Coast Guard station in San Pedro, confirmed that McDermott’s disappearance “is still an open case.
“We have no updates to report,” he told me. “But we have an investigator assigned to the case. He has reports of sightings and he has followed them. We’ve received reports from people who say they’ve spotted him. Everywhere from Africa to Beverly Hills. But there are other leads that our investigator is following. And he probably has information that I don’t have.”
The lieutenant emphasized: “We consider this case to be ‘open.’”
Proof of Life?
In the months and years to follow, an Australian journalist embedded himself in Todos Santos and reported on many people who recognized McDermott. A hat said to belong to the missing man was produced and scooped up by an investigator for the television celebutainment magazine, Extra. A DNA test on the hat was promised, but never performed, or at least never reported.
The British and Australian tabloid press put in a full-court effort to advance the story – and track down McDermott. Reporters and investigators seemed hot on his trail, following sightings but always seeming to be a day or so behind him. An attorney said to be representing McDermott announced that he’d asked “not to be hounded” and to be left alone. An investigator wrote a book. NBC’ News’s Dateline show eventually dedicated an episode to the mystery. It was fronted by the smarmy, perpetually-amused reporter Keith Morrison, and titled Beyond the Sea.
Olivia Newton-John, meanwhile, “bonded” with McDermott’s ex-wife, and with her on board, spoke often of her love for the missing man, and her hope that he might be alive.
In 2010, the Australian magazine New Idea reported what it claimed to be details from the official Coast Guard report into McDermott’s disappearance. Along with the fact that McDermott was on the singer’s payroll: McDermott purchased a .357 magnum three months before he disappeared; Someone tried to access his computer between the time he vanished and when it was seized; a file from his computer contained information on how to fake an identity; he’d attempted suicide by pills at seventeen; he was drowning in debt and failing to meet child support; he had $755.01 in savings and $19,004.56 in credit card debt and was $8,000 behind in child support payments; he’d destroyed all his emails, including correspondence from Newton-John; in 2033 he’d started a company called Twice Alive Productions.
Did Patrick McDermott remain in Baja? Did he slip of to Central or South America as so many others have? There have been clues and claims, but no proof of life.
In July 2008, almost three years to the day to the day from Patrick McDermott’s disappearance, Olivia Newton-John married a 49-year-old Australian entrepreneur named John Easterling in a surprise ceremony at her home in Malibu.
He survives her, as does this mystery.
©2022 By Burt Kearns produces nonfiction television and documentary films and writes books, including Tabloid Baby, The Show Won’t Go On (written with Jeff Abraham), Lawrence Tierney: Hollywood’s Real-Life Tough Guy (available for pre-sale on Amazon.com), and the recently-announced Marlon Brando: Hollywood Rebel.