The Dark Side of Bing Crosby

By John Lavitt 12/23/14

A PBS documentary reveals a less than merry side of the White Christmas singer's family life.


Did the twin sons of Bing Crosby suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? A new documentary called Bing Crosby Rediscovered, airing on PBS as part of the American Masters series, uncovers the darkness of Crosby's first marriage with Dixie Lee and the toll it took on their family. When it comes to secular ambassadors of Christmas, only Santa Claus has greater synonymy than Bing Crosby with the holiday. Was there a darkness, however, lurking behind Crosby’s annual performance of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas?

Dixie Lee, a shy actress behind the funny man, clearly suffered from alcoholism before succumbing to ovarian cancer in 1952 at the age of 41. Together, Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee had four sons, including twins named Dennis and Phillip. According to People magazine, experts have come to believe the developmentally challenged twins suffered from their mother's heavy drinking. Robert Trachtenberg, writer and producer of the documentary, told People:

"I had been hearing about it and then the twins, they didn't look quite right…Something had told me that it was fetal alcohol syndrome, so I took existing photos of the twins and showed it to a couple of specialists at USC. When they’re born, it affects their skull and their nose, and it manifests itself physically as well. The specialists looked at them and said 'Yeah, this is a like a textbook case of fetal alcohol syndrome.'"

Did Bing Crosby ever suspect that his first wife's drinking had an adverse affect on their twins? Without question, their difficulties definitely shed a shadow over the holiday season for the family. Dennis Crosby killed himself in 1991, and Phillip died of a heart attack in 1994.

For Bing Crosby, being associated with Christmas was always more of a blessing than a burden. In an interview with, Robert Trachtenberg explains, "Whenever he was asked about it, he would say, 'What is the down side? It's a wonderful holiday and everyone is in a great mood.’” Known as a cold and distant father, one who struggled to say the words, “I love you,” the dark irony of the truth behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is hard to ignore.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.