The obituary wasn’t signed but it’s not hard to guess who wrote it.
For one thing, it was chock-full of personal details only someone intimately familiar with the deceased could have known — like the fact that, before he died, he called his mother in France every morning and began their conversation with the same refrain: “Bonjour Mamie, c’est moi, Titi!”
For another, it was much better written than most of the home-spun requiems on Legacy.com, a commercial website that offers mourners space online to post tributes to lost loved ones. The prose was smooth and polished, with a certain familiar sassiness and cheeky playfulness punctuating its otherwise somber tone. Clearly, it had been written by a professional.
In fact, there was really only one person who could have pulled off that obituary.
Gigi Grazer, c’est toi.
Grazer, of course, is the former wife of Hollywood mogul Brian Grazer — she now goes by her maiden name, Gigi Levangie — who, even before their 2007 divorce, had transformed herself into the best-selling author of a series of dishy roman a clefs, like “The Starter Wife” and “Been There, Married That.” And the man she was so elegantly and movingly eulogizing — if indeed she was the one who wrote the obit — was her latest husband, French sports photographer and avid rodeo enthusiast Chris Elise, who died on May 14, at age 50, at the couple’s home in Franklin, Tennessee, where they’d been living since their abrupt and, to many, rather odd decampment from Los Angeles in 2022.
The cause of Elise’s death is unknown. The autopsy results won’t be released for several more months, if indeed one is even being performed, which the Tennessee State Medical Examiner’s office wouldn’t confirm to TheWrap. Few details have been publicly released. The obit offers no clues, noting only that Elise was recently baptized “with great happiness…. at Church of the City in Franklin, Tennessee,” and that he had “passed on — ‘graduated’ — at the peak of his joy.” Another obit, posted on the Professional Bull Riders website and written by its head of public relations, Andrew Giangola, added that Elise had “died with a book on his chest, reading glasses on his face.”
But the cause of death of this perfectly healthy-seeming, still young-ish man isn’t the only mystery here. There’s another just-as-puzzling riddle, one that’s been befuddling many of Levangie’s longtime friends for the last several years, and that no coroner’s report is going shed much light on.
And that mystery is, what in the world happened to Gigi?
One minute, she was the toast of Hollywood, wife of one of the town’s biggest players. She was everywhere — at movie openings and fashion shows and LGBTQ events and political fundraisers (for Democrats, like Barack Obama). Even after her split from Grazer, Levangie remained a luminescent Beverly Hills butterfly, with her sassy Hollywood books — like the one she published a year after the divorce, “Queen Takes King,” about a hugely powerful and highly visible media couple who break up and then go to war with each other — turning her into a local literary celebrity, the Candace Bushnell of the Pacific Palisades.
But then, in the early 2020s, as she approached 60, something happened that suddenly had her seeing red — political red: mocking President Biden for calling out white supremacy, hating on Democratic politicians, randomly fat-shaming, embracing online bullies, retweeting anti-trans vitriol, showing off her guns and buying her sons bulletproof vests as Christmas gifts. Meanwhile, her new husband’s social media accounts and public statements were also conspicuously anti-Black Lives Matter, and anti-trans (“I really don’t believe as a Black man you’re in danger because of police in America,” as he stated in a video interview).
Levangie’s private social media accounts started to fill up with bizarre and hateful comments about the poor and homeless, as she raged against “wokeness” and bitterly complained about how she felt betrayed by the Democratic party and was disgusted by California Governor Gavin Newsom. She fell out with high-profile friends like progressive Molly Jong-Fast.
She had changed lanes and was proud of it.
“I’mma be the hottest fascista ever,” she tweeted, presumably unironically, in 2022.
And in April 2023, weeks before her husband died, came this: “Western Civilization succumbed to theater kids.”
Her former friends are confused and distraught, including one who has a trans child. “She used to post a rainbow on her avatar during Pride [month],” said one of a half-dozen people who spoke to TheWrap, some of whom provided screenshots of Levangie’s private social media. “I don’t know where that [the hate] came from.”
As COVID descended and homelessness and crime worsened in L.A., Levangie turned against the town she had been raised in. She and her cowboy-obsessed French husband decamped for the reddest state in the union, where they joined a hard-core Christian church, and started a new life a thousand miles away.
Something turned Brian Grazer’s ex-wife MAGA — but what?
Understandably, Levangie has been steering clear of the media since Elise’s death. She hasn’t been giving interviews and she didn’t respond to multiple requests from TheWrap to speak for this story (Brian Grazer, who was traveling overseas, was also unavailable for an interview). Still, between off-the-record conversations with friends and book world colleagues, along with previously published stories about her, it’s possible to piece together a rough road map of her life’s trajectory and maybe even pick up some clues as to what led to such a radical change in its course.
She was born and raised in East Hollywood. Her mom was an elementary school teacher, her father a stay-at-home dad. She was smart — she finished Hollywood High at 16, took some classes at Los Angeles Community College, then moved on to UCLA. After graduating in the mid-1980s, she landed an internship on a late-night talk show, then a job as a receptionist at the offices of Fred Silverman, the legendary TV producer behind such ’70s hits as “All in the Family” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Before long she was running the place, as Silverman’s head of television development.
Around that time, there was a first marriage to a blues musician. It didn’t stick. “I was the major breadwinner,” she told Elle magazine in a 2009 profile. “That was too difficult for him.”
At 28, freshly divorced from the musician and still working for Silverman, Levangie was having a business lunch at a Hollywood restaurant when she was introduced to Grazer, who at that time was just getting warmed up as an uber-producer, having churned out early hits like “Splash,” “Parenthood” and “Kindergarten Cop.” After a first date, they moved in together. Seven years later, in 1997, they made it official with a wedding.
Grazer’s wealth allowed Levangie to give up her job with Silverman and devote herself to the career she really wanted — writing — at which she had some early successes. She penned the screenplay for the 1998 Julia Roberts hit “The Stepmom,” which she loosely based on her own experience with Grazer’s kids from his first marriage. Then she moved onto novels, including 2003’s “Maneater,” which was optioned for $1 million by Mandalay Pictures and ultimately turned into a Lifetime mini-series, and 2007’s “The Starter Wife,” which was made into a USA Network miniseries.
To the outside world, she was living the Hollywood dream. Her husband’s movies — “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Da Vinci Code” — were raking in billions of dollars and winning shelf loads of awards. They had two adorable sons, Patrick and Thomas Costa Grazer, who she was raising in a Pacific Palisades estate so enormous — 20,000 square feet — her husband would sometimes get lost in it. There were other homes in Malibu and Hawaii.
For her 40th birthday in 2003, Grazer gave her a gargantuan 11-carat diamond ring.
Still, the marriage was hardly perfect. In a 2005 profile in The New York Times, you could read hints of trouble between the lines.
“I sometimes wish she would have more of a conformist personality,” her husband told the newspaper. “She won’t keep a calendar in advance filled with activities with other industry families. If any of that stuff happens, it’s because I do it. In our equation, she is extremely independent and tough and keeps me on guard, and I like that about her. Even when I get home, I have to have my wits about me. But sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I wish it was just a little cozier.”
When the Times reporter read that quote back to Levangie, she laughed. “This planning thing is definitely a sticking point between us,” she acknowledged. “I can’t make the outgoing phone calls. I go into a social paralysis. [But] somehow, my husband has managed to have a career without it.”
A few years later, in a plot twist out of one of her novels, the marriage fell apart. Just a day after Levangie did a “Today Show” interview in which she gushed about her husband to Matt Lauer — and just three weeks before their 10th anniversary — she learned that Grazer was filing for divorce. She joked that she’d been “Cruise’d,” a reference to Tom Cruise dumping Nicole Kidman just before their 10th anniversary.
“In California, after the 10-year mark, the alimony can be lifelong, so the men get scared of losing their money,” she told Elle. “To file was his decision, but I knew it was coming. We were having trouble for some time, and we had separated for six weeks the year before that. We had small children, so we tried to make it work, but I think I was prepared for it.”
Details of the final divorce settlement aren’t publicly known but at the time TMZ reported Levangie asked Grazer for $1 million a month, although other sources have put it at a lump sum of $13 million. Whatever she got, the split required her to downsize. She and the two kids moved into a smaller home in Santa Monica, and, after a short period of adjustment, she started dating again, an ordeal she chronicled in a 2008 essay in Bazaar. “Truthfully, for me, being single was fine — and probably a good idea,” she wrote. “The last time I wasn’t half of a couple, Boy George wore eyeliner.”
For a while, she went out with sportswriter Mark Kriegel — the two even pitched a comedy series they cowrote to CBS, which didn’t end up going anywhere — but there were other suitors as well, including a Texas real estate entrepreneur and another entertainment mogul. But it wasn’t until a decade later, in 2019, while attending a Clippers game, that Levangie laid eyes on the man who would become her third husband.
He was on the court, taking pictures.
“I saw him on the floor with a giant lens,” she told Los Angeles Magazine in 2020 about her first encounter with Chris Elise. “And then six months later, I saw him on Tinder. He was the only person I swiped right on.”
According to the Legacy.com obit, Elise grew up in Tours, France, had been a paratrooper in the French Army’s Special Forces, and had started out as a journalist focusing on information technology before moving to the U.S. and embarking on his “lifelong dream of becoming a sports photographer.” The obituary went on to dryly note that Elise was also “a serious Trekker who spoke Klingon (a fact that was kept from his wife, Gigi, until after they were married).”
Even more than “Star Trek,” though, Elise — by most accounts a sweet but deeply quirky character — was obsessed with the American West and cowboy culture. In an interview posted in 2019 on the Lucchese bootmaker website (Elise owned 27 pairs of the brand’s cowboy boots) he explained the genesis of that fascination. “My grandfather, a WWII veteran who couldn’t speak two words of English loved Western movies. I spent my childhood watching those movies with him and my grandmother. I loved — and still do — Western movies, and the American cowboy.”
It’s tempting to ponder whether Elise’s cowboy fetish — which included not just rodeo bull riding but also collecting six-shooters and other weapons, and often posing with them in cowboy outfits on social media — might have had something to do with Levangie’s sudden conversion to MAGAism. But that may be too facile a leap. According to friends who’ve known her for years, Levangie’s political and cultural turn to the far right appeared to be of her own making. The transformation, they say, took place during the pandemic, when Levangie became a staunch anti-everything woke. Homelessness and her perception of Democratic government inaction sent her into a spiral of anger and hate. Her Twitter feed — kept private, but shared with TheWrap by her former friends — became a tirade of hate, fat-shaming and bullying that was wildly out of character for those who knew her before.
On May 14, 2020, she tweeted over photos of a Seattle homeless encampment:
“Vote blue no matter who… takes a dump in your kids’ playground.”
That same month, in response to a New York Times story about a Biden speech at Howard University commencement warning that white supremacy was “the most dangerous threat to our homeland,” she compared the President’s graduation gown to a KKK cloak and hood.
“Also,” she added, “no one believes this lie — not the NYT, not Biden, not MSNBCNN — no one.”
On Sept. 2, 2022, in response to a Biden tweet that “There is nothing America can’t do if we do it together,” she posted: “That feeling when your prez goes full Sybil.”
Dec. 1, 2022: In response to a story about a baby that allegedly ingested fentanyl while playing in the grass at Moscone Park, she tweeted: “California — worst in education, best in overdosing toddlers.”
Jan. 5, 2023: Applause emoji over this tweet, “Make bullying great again.”
Her friends were upset. “I’m very sad,” said one, an author who wasn’t willing to use her name. “I’m not sad that Chris is dead, because he lost his mind. I’m not happy he’s dead, but I certainly miss Gigi. When I was getting divorced, she offered me a home to stay in. She was a really kind friend. It’s just a bummer to lose a friend.”
(As for why none of her former friends would go on the record, one deadpanned: “She has guns and knives,” while another simply said, “She’s scary.”)
There are elements of Levangie’s own personal background that might explain why she was so triggered by rising crime rates and homelessness. Her older sister, Mimi, was a convicted drug dealer who’d been in and out of prison for years and struggled with gambling addiction, according to a 2013 profile of Levangie. Levangie had financially supported her sibling for decades, as well as Mimi’s three children by three different fathers, one of whom once shot and nearly killed Mimi, leaving her for dead.
But still, the transformation was extraordinary. And, ultimately, it pushed Levangie out of L.A. In 2022, she and her husband moved to Tennessee. The new life they created for themselves wasn’t exactly austere — they purchased a sprawling spread in Franklin, a wealthy bedroom community of Nashville where celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood have lived — but it was a massive cultural shift.
Last Christmas, Levangie’s and Grazer’s two boys — Patrick is now 18 and attending West Point, while Thomas Costa, 23, recently moved to New York — spent the holiday in Franklin with their mom and new stepdad (who often referred to them as “my sons”). Levagnie posted photos of the boys modeling the bulletproof vests they’d been given as presents — monogrammed with what was apparently the new family crest: LGE, for “Levangie Grazer Elise.”
Levangie and Elise also joined a new congregation in Tennessee, The Church of the City, a non-denominational network of worshipers that preaches old-time religion. After enduring a fast for Jesus in January, Elise was baptized in February 2023, posting videos of the ceremony online. In May, the month he died, he was undergoing another sort of Church-related penance, giving up social media for 30 days, as was Levangie.
“I’ll be offline most of the time, not on Instagram for the whole month,” he wrote in his final post on May 1. He ended with a quote from Psalms 119:37: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”
If Tennessee officials eventually do release an autopsy, the mystery of Elise’s sudden death may well be resolved. But the other mystery, the mystery of what happened to Levangie — of what pushed her from her life in L.A. and seemingly turned her into a whole other sort of person — that’s something only she can fully explain.
And for now, apparently, the only talking she’s doing is on Legacy.com.