Brenda Benet, born Brenda Ann Nelson in Los Angeles, California, on August 14, 1945, was a classic example of the modern-day Hollywood tragedy. As a television actress with good dramatic scope, she managed to piece together a wide and impressive portfolio of guest shots in a career spanning just over 16 years before taking her life at the age of 36. She spent her childhood and early teenage years feeling awkward and self-conscious because her complexion was darker than those of her siblings. Because of this, she felt that she did not fit in with her family, and often fantasized about being adopted.
Brenda attended UCLA for a brief time, majoring in languages. In 1962 she entered show business; her breakthrough role came in 1964 when she was selected to play the part of Jill McComb in The Young Marrieds (1964). After that came stints on various comedy and drama series in the ’60s and ’70s, usually playing ethnic, exotic types. She was probably best known for her role as the kind-hearted prostitute in Walking Tall (1973). During this time she married and divorced actor Paul Petersen. She began a relationship with Bill Bixby and moved in with him in 1969, and they married in 1971. By the late ’70s, however, they were divorced.
Brenda retired from the business in the mid-’70s to raise a family, and in late 1974 she gave birth to a boy, Christopher Sean Bixby. Tragically, Christopher died in 1981 during a winter ski vacation in California. It was believed that this and her divorce from Bixby were the events which caused Brenda’s life to spin out of control. On April 7, 1982, Brenda went into the bathroom of her West Los Angeles home, lit and arranged some candles in a circle on the floor and lay down. She then placed a Colt .38-cal. revolver into her mouth and pulled the trigger. She died instantly.
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