The star in Vogue became a sad, lonely, figure ... the Hemingway clan had claimed one of its own

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The life of Margaux Hemingway, former million-dollar model and Hollywood actress, ended in almost unimaginable misery. Police who removed her badly decomposed body from her apartment in Santa Monica, California, said it would take weeks of forensic scientific tests before they would know how she died - whether she collapsed or overdosed.

As they arranged an autopsy yesterday, Santa Monica police said there was no sign of foul play or forced entry, and that no guns or illegal drugs were found in Ms Hemingway's one-room apartment. They had to identify her by her dental records.

It was a pitiful end for one of the first supermodels. At the age of 19, she adorned the cover of Time magazine. Within months of launching her modelling career, she picked up a string of assignments with Vogue and other glamour magazines. Six-foot tall and blonde, with the striking black eyes which ran in her family, she landed a million-dollar contract to promote a Faberge perfume called Babe. In 1976, still 19, she starred in the film Lipstick as a young rape victim who schemed to jail the perpetrator by luring him into a second attack.

Critics were not kind about the film, and they became progressively more scathing as Margaux, desperate to prolong her acting career beyond the short shelf life of a model, appeared in a list of films each more second- rate than the last.

But it was Margaux's younger sister Mariel - who played her sister in Lipstick - who emerged as an acting talent, best known for her performance in Woody Allen's Manhattan.

Their grandfather, the author Ernest Hemingway, inspired a Americans with such classics as For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.

But violent self-inflicted death, depression and alcoholism run like a virus through the Hemingway family. For Ernest Hemingway, one of the most widely read American novelists of the 20th century, boozing and physical trauma led to depression, electroshock therapy and a final mental collapse. Thirty-five years ago this week he killed himself with a shotgun. His brother, sister and father also killed themselves.

Almost inevitably, by the late Eighties Margaux's career had stopped glittering and she was in the Betty Ford Clinic, drying out from alcohol and cocaine and fighting bulimia. "For a time, I was living the life of Ernest Hemingway," she once told an interviewer. "I think alcohol drove my grandfather to suicide, but I'm still alive because I did something about it." She changed her name from Margaux, after the expensive French wine, to Margot.

In 1990 she posed nude for Playboy magazine, hoping to revive her career by baring all at age 35, in what she called "a celebration of my rebirth". Her appearance was noted as an attempt to get Hollywood's attention and publicity for her film Love in C Minor. "I'm single and in charge of my own life for the first time," she said. "It's a marvellous feeling." If the Playboy appearance proved she was still in great shape, it achieved little else. The road ended for Ms Hemingway in her apartment, one block from the beach at Santa Monica, where she moved a few weeks ago.

Yesterday neighbours used words such as "haggard" and "depressed" to describe the woman they saw riding an old bike near the Santa Monica beaches. "She struck me as disturbed and unhappy," said one, Peter Osterlund. "I remember thinking she was a sad figure".

Friends who had come to help her finish settling in on Monday found the door locked. They climbed a ladder and saw the body. She had recently finished narrating a television show called The Wild Guide.

Her agent-manager, David Mirisch, said: "For the past week or ten days, she hasn't really been the Margaux that we all knew as far as having that 'up' personality."

Obituary, page 14