By Ed Leibowitz
When Nikki Bacharach was born in the summer of 1966, her parents were among the most sought-after couples in Hollywood. Angie Dickinson was a gorgeous film star who had appeared opposite John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Frank Sinatra. In the '70s, as the lead on NBC's "Police Woman," she would become the first actress to carry a hit drama in prime time.
A brilliant composer, Burt Bacharach had already written hits for Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, and would win two Oscars before Nikki turned 3.
From early childhood, Nikki suffered from the effects of her premature birth and the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome. Socially withdrawn and obsessive, she craved repetition and fell into bouts of frustration and rage. This was at a time when autism was believed to strike only the severely impaired -- "far gone mental cripples," as Life magazine put it -- and didn't apply to highly verbal, precocious kids like Nikki. The American Psychiatric Association wouldn't include Asperger's in its diagnostic manual until 1994, when Nikki was 27. She was diagnosed several years later, but her symptoms continued to worsen. In January 2007, at age 40, she committed suicide.
Angie Dickinson, now 78, recalls the life of her only child. The actress shares her story with reporter Ed Leibowitz.
My water broke three months early. It wasn't complete bed rest, but practically. That lasted only a week. Then the infection set in, and the baby started to abort. So I went to Cedars. I was in labor for 26 hours, and I was out of it, but I heard them say, "Angie, you've had a girl." That's all I remember. Nobody thought she was going to survive -- she was one pound, ten ounces. I was in the hospital five days, and I never went down the long hallway to see her through the window. I didn't want to have that memory and then have her go. She was probably up to two pounds by the time I saw her, the day I left the hospital.