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Songwriter's death in NYC is ruled a suicide

Associated Press Modified: May 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm •  Published: May 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — The Academy Award-winning songwriter of "You Light Up My Life," who was awaiting trial on rape charges and was found dead in his apartment, committed suicide, the medical examiner's office ruled Monday, citing asphyxia by helium.

Joseph Brooks was discovered in his apartment Sunday by a friend with whom he was supposed to meet for lunch. The door was unlocked and the doorman at Brooks' apartment was given instructions to allow the friend upstairs.

Police said the 73-year-old was found slumped over on a coach in his den. A plastic dry-cleaning bag was wrapped around his head and a towel was wrapped around his neck. A hose was attached to the bag and a small tank of helium nearby.

The medical examiner's office said Monday Brooks died of asphyxia due to displacement of oxygen by helium gas within the plastic bag over his head.

Helium is generally difficult to detect in an autopsy. Using it to commit suicide is outlined in a best-selling suicide manual by British author Derek Humphry.

The songwriter was awaiting trial on allegations that he lured women to his apartment through an online ad offering auditions for a movie role, then sexually assaulted them after making them drink apparently drugged wine as part of an "acting exercise." He pleaded not guilty in 2009, and his court date had not yet been set.

Police said a rambling, three-page suicide note was found that included complaints about his health.

Brooks suffered a stroke in 2008, and his lawyer had said the songwriter's health was deteriorating during the court case. He appeared gaunt and shuffled slowly as he came to recent court dates.

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