In 1921, Arbuckle signed a new contract with Paramount that would earn him $1,000,000 annually. To celebrate his good fortune, he traveled to San Francisco’s posh St. Francis Hotel for a Labor Day weekend of partying. Actress Virginia Rappe was just one of his many guests, but when she turned up dead, Arbuckle was vilified as a sadistic rapist and murderer—despite the fact that she died in a hospital one week later, days after Arbuckle returned to L.A.Suddenly, Arbuckle embodied everything that was wrong with Hollywood. The press and the public condemned him. Religious organizations and moralists demanded that the district attorney charge Arbuckle with murder. They opted for manslaughter. Arbuckle’s films were withdrawn from theaters across the nation and he became the first major movie star to be blacklisted.
His first two trials ended in hung juries requiring a third go-round. When the third jury adjourned it took them five whole minutes to reach a unanimous decision of acquittal. Most of that time was spent writing an apology to the defendant. It read in part:
“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration under the evidence for there not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime….The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible….Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.”
Arbuckle was now a free man, but life as he knew it was over. His legal fees bankrupted him. Former fans believed he was only freed due to a lack of evidence and his position in Hollywood. Arbuckle remained a pariah for the rest of his years. He died in his sleep on June 29, 1933—the cause of death sited as heart trouble, but those who knew him well believed his heart was simply broken.