NEW YORK – The Academy Award-winning songwriter of "You Light Up My Life," who was awaiting trial on rape charges and was found dead in his apartment, committed suicide, the medical examiner's office ruled Monday, citing asphyxia by helium.
Joseph Brooks was discovered in his apartment Sunday by a friend with whom he was supposed to meet for lunch. The door was unlocked and the doorman at Brooks' apartment was given instructions to allow the friend upstairs.
Police said the 73-year-old was found slumped over on a coach in his den. A plastic dry-cleaning bag was wrapped around his head and a towel was wrapped around his neck. A hose was attached to the bag and a small tank of helium nearby.
The medical examiner's office said Monday Brooks died of asphyxia due to displacement of oxygen by helium gas within the plastic bag over his head.
Helium is generally difficult to detect in an autopsy. Using it to commit suicide is outlined in a best-selling suicide manual by British author Derek Humphry.
The songwriter was awaiting trial on allegations that he lured women to his apartment through an online ad offering auditions for a movie role, then sexually assaulted them after making them drink apparently drugged wine as part of an "acting exercise." He pleaded not guilty in 2009, and his court date had not yet been set.
Police said a rambling, three-page suicide note was found that included complaints about his health.
Brooks suffered a stroke in 2008, and his lawyer had said the songwriter's health was deteriorating during the court case. He appeared gaunt and shuffled slowly as he came to recent court dates.
Brooks won the Academy Award for best original song for the 1977 Debby Boone ballad "You Light Up My Life" and directed a movie of the same name about a comedian who had a one-night stand with a director. Brooks also won a Grammy for the song.
"I have been saddened to hear of the horrible tragedies surrounding Joe Brooks and his family over the years," Boone said in a statement released through a friend on Monday.
"My only real association with Joe was in 1977 for a couple of hours in a New York recording studio when I recorded his beautiful song. I will continue to sing it proudly and hope that people will be able to separate the song from Joe's severely troubled life," Boone said.
In an unrelated case, Brooks' son, Nicholas, is charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend, Peruvian-American swimsuit designer Sylvie Cachay. She was found dead, half-clothed and face-up, in a tub at the swanky Soho House after water began leaking through to the floor below.
Nicholas Brooks has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail at the Rikers Island jail complex.