The Tragic Death of Dino Martin, Jr., Son of Dean Martin

Herbie J Pilato
Photo byThe Classic TV Preservation Society

Dino Martin, the son of legendary crooner Dean Martin, was a multi-talented performer just like his father. But his life was cut much too short, long before his famous dad passed away.

According to, "Dean Paul Martin Jr. was an American actor, singer, tennis player, and military pilot. Though his father, Dean Martin, was a well-known entertainer, he created an identity of his own with his diverse interests. Born and raised in California, US, he had achieved a number of skills by his teenage years. By the age of 14, he was part of a reasonably successful music band, and by 16, he had acquired his pilot’s license. He was also an accomplished tennis player and had played at junior ‘Wimbledon.’ Martin appeared in a few movies and film series within the short span of his career. His role as a professional tennis player, opposite Ali MacGraw, in the 1979 movie ‘Players’ earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination. Some of his other notable projects were the TV series ‘Misfits of Science’ and the thriller movie ‘Backfire.’ He had married and divorced twice. Martin died at the age of 35 when his jet fighter crashed into a snowstorm during a routine military training flight."

As detailed by journalist Barbara Metzler for The Associated Press in 1987, at the March Air Force Base in California, "Dean Martin’s son and a fellow crewman died instantly when their fighter jet slammed into a remote mountainside in dense clouds six days ago, officials said after finding the fliers’ bodies.

"Searchers found the remains Wednesday of Air National Guard Capt. Dean Paul Martin, 35, and weapons officer Capt. Ramon Ortiz, 39, of Las Vegas, Nev., in the San Bernardino Mountains where the wreckage of their F4-C Phantom was spotted from the air earlier in the day."

″They made no attempt to eject,″ said Sgt. Carolyn Hamilton, a guard spokeswoman. They ″perished instantly at the time of impact.″

″The family is grief-stricken and in seclusion in Beverly Hills,″ Dean Martin’s publicist, Warren Cowan, said at the time.

The jet crashed into the side of a granite mountain at about 400 mph, after plunging nearly 4,000 feet from its last altitude reading on the radar of 9,300 feet.

An Air Force investigation team left for the crash site early that morning. ″They are planning on recovering the bodies sometime today, as quickly as they can,″ said Capt. Bill Harkey of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. ″And they will try to reconstruct as much of the aircraft as they can from what they find.″

As Metzler went on to report, "There was no indication of a malfunction with the plane, said another guard spokesman, Maj. Steve Mensik.

″Apparently they did a 360-degree loop, four miles long, after his last hit (sighting) on the radar,″ Mensik said.

Metzler said Martin and Ortiz were "in one of three Phantom jets that left March Air Force Base, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, on maneuvers near the San Bernardino mountains Saturday afternoon. As the jets approached 11,502-foot Mount San Gorgonio in heavy clouds, civilian air traffic controllers instructed the pilots to turn. Two crews acknowledged and steered clear of the mountain, but there was no response from Martin’s jet."

Searchers had difficulty finding the aircraft, which had a green and gray camouflage pattern that blended with the terrain, Mensik relayed at the time.

"Search and rescue workers had remained optimistic throughout the search, confident that if Martin and Ortiz were able to parachute from the jet they could survive for up to a week in the wilderness," Metzler documented. "Both had been wearing parachutes and survival kits containing food, insulating blankets, and other gear."

As Metzler noted, in 1977, the 82-year-old mother of Frank Sinatra, "Natalie 'Dolly' Sinatra, was killed in a plane crash nearby in the same mountain range. Fliers in Martin’s unit, the 163rd Tactical Fighter Group based at March Air Force Base considered him a talented pilot."

″Captain Martin was one of the better pilots and an exceptional athlete,″ said Mensik.

"The oldest of Dean Martin’s three children by a former wife, Jeanne, Dean Paul Martin had been an athlete, a pilot, a television performer, and a musician," Metzler chronicled. The younger Martin had recently appeared in NBC-TV’s Misfits of Science and starred with Ali MacGraw in the 1979 tennis film Players.

Martin had begun his career at only 14 years old, forming the rock band Dino, Desi, and Billy with Desi Arnaz Jr., the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and a neighbor, Billy Hinsche. The group’s biggest hit was ″I’m a Fool.″

Martin was wed and divorced from actress Olivia Hussey, with whom he had a son, and Olympic gold-medal skater Dorothy Hamill, and had played professional tennis.

As Metzler concluded, Martin had "obtained a private helicopter pilot’s license at age 16 and soon moved to fixed-wing aircraft, joining the Air National Guard in 1980. Air National Guard slots for fighter pilots are usually reserved for those with fighter experience, generally ex-Air Force regulars. Martin was welcomed after flying to Washington and pleading his case to the director of the Air Guard. He joined the 163rd after finishing pilot training in November 1981."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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