Feb. 9, 2008 -- A few years ago my girlfriend and I took a long weekend and drove from Los Angeles into the California desert. We spent our first day exploring Joshua Tree National Park and needed a place to spend the night. There weren't a lot of choices, and when we happened upon the Joshua Tree Inn, we stopped.
There was room at the Inn, in fact lots of empty rooms. But what happened next was unexpected. The guy checking us in made us an offer.
"Would you like to stay in the room where Gram Parsons died?" Parsons was a singer and songwriter who is considered one of the first country rock stars. He overdosed when he was 26 in 1973.
Sleeping in his room was an offer we could refuse and at the same time an eye-opening lesson in celebrity worship weirdness. Check out this Web site (click HERE) and see if you agree.
The Chateau Marmont in Hollywood has a similar connection to a celebrity death that it will never be able to shake -- and perhaps doesn't want to. In 1982, "Saturday Night Live's" John Belushi died of a drug overdose there at the age of 33.
Go to the hotel's Web site (click HERE) and click on press. Among the tributes: "Hollywood's Chateau Marmont hotel has a reputation as a place to misbehave, and for guests who never want to leave."
In the nearly 80 years since it opened, the Chateau Marmont has had more than its share of misbehaving celebrity guests, as the recent video showing Heath Ledger at a party there attests.
John Belushi's death may have made the Chateau infamous, but it was already legendary for its list of famous residents from Hollywood's past -- Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, Boris Karloff, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Carol Lombard -- to its present -- Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder.
"It's classy and casual and funky and chic all at the same time," says Jeanne Wolf, who writes about Hollywood for Parade Magazine and has interviewed Charlize Theron and Ashton Kutcher at the hotel. "Celebrities say, 'Leave me alone,' but they really like to be around each other. The Chateau Marmont caters to them in the best way. They get personal treatment without being fawned over."
But along with the hotel's allure and charm comes another list of the eccentric and troubled who have stayed there, including Howard Hughes (who used to spy on the women around the pool from his suite), Jim Morrison (part of the movie "The Doors" was shot at the Chateau) and Rolling Stone journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
More recently, Lindsay Lohan checked in after her drunken driving arrest last July, Britney Spears was reportedly asked to leave for creating a disturbance, and Amy Winehouse stayed at the Chateau. Need we say more?
"Celebrities are attracted to the lore of the hotel, and eccentricity fits there," says Wolf. "Fame isn't something most celebrities want to escape. They'd just like to be able to control it, and at the Chateau they can a little."
But controlling themselves is obviously another matter. A Hollywood story goes that a studio head once told William Holden and Glenn Ford, "If you're going to get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont." And it appears that's still true.
But so is this: The Chateau Marmont won't be offering you the bungalow where John Belushi was found dead when you check in. You'll have to ask for it.