Ann Prentiss Cause of Death: How the Actress Ended Up in Prison

Ann Prentiss was an American actress who had a promising career in the 1960s and 1970s, appearing in films and TV shows such as My Stepmother Is an Alien, The Out-of-Towners, and California Split. She was also the younger sister of Paula Prentiss, another famous actress who starred in comedies like What’s New Pussycat? and The Stepford Wives. However, Ann Prentiss’s life took a dark turn in the 1990s, when she was convicted of assaulting her father and plotting to kill her sister’s husband and son. She died in prison in 2010 at the age of 70. What led to her downfall and what was her cause of death? Here is a brief overview of her tragic story.

Early Life and Career

Ann Prentiss was born as Ann Elizabeth Ragusa on November 27, 1939, in San Antonio, Texas. Her father was of Sicilian descent and her mother was of Irish and English ancestry. She had an elder sister, Paula, who also pursued an acting career. Ann followed her sister’s footsteps and moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s. She changed her surname to Prentiss, which was her mother’s maiden name.

Ann Prentiss had a striking resemblance to her sister, both in appearance and voice. She also had a similar flair for comedy and drama. She landed many supporting roles in films and TV shows, often playing sassy or quirky characters. Some of her notable roles include:

  • A secretary in Any Wednesday (1966), a romantic comedy starring Jane Fonda and Jason Robards.
  • A militant black woman in If He Hollers, Let Him Go! (1968), a crime drama starring Raymond St. Jacques and Barbara McNair.
  • A stewardess in The Out-of-Towners (1970), a comedy classic starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis.
  • A poker player in California Split (1974), a gambling film directed by Robert Altman and starring George Segal and Elliott Gould.
  • The voice of an alien species in My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), a sci-fi comedy starring Kim Basinger and Dan Aykroyd.

She also appeared in several TV shows, such as Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, Baretta, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote. She had a regular role as Police Sgt. Candy Kane in the short-lived superhero sitcom Captain Nice (1967), created by Buck Henry.

Criminal Conviction

Ann Prentiss’s career declined in the 1980s and she became more reclusive and erratic. In 1996, she attacked her 86-year-old father, Thomas Ragusa, at his home in Beverly Hills. She hit him on the head with a flashlight and fired a gun at him, but missed. She was arrested and charged with battery and assault with a firearm.

While she was in jail awaiting trial, she tried to hire another inmate to kill three people: her father, her brother-in-law Richard Benjamin (an actor and director who was married to Paula Prentiss), and her nephew Ross Benjamin (an actor who was Richard and Paula’s son). She allegedly offered $50,000 for each murder. The inmate reported her to the authorities and she was charged with solicitation to murder.

The motive for her crimes was unclear, but some speculated that she was jealous of her sister’s success and happiness. She also claimed that her father had sexually abused her as a child, but there was no evidence to support this allegation.

In June 1997, she was tried in a Santa Monica court for terrorizing her family. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury rejected this defense. She was convicted of making terrorist threats, assault with a firearm, battery, and solicitation to murder. On July 23, 1997, she was sentenced to 19 years in prison.


Ann Prentiss spent the last years of her life in prison. She died on January 12, 2010, at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. According to IMDb, her cause of death was cardiovascular disease and pulmonary emphysema. She was cremated and her ashes were given to her family.

Ann Prentiss’s death received little attention from the media and the public. Her sister Paula did not comment on her death or their relationship. Paula Prentiss is still alive and has been married to Richard Benjamin since 1961. They have two children: Ross Benjamin (born in 1974) and Prentiss Benjamin (born in 1978), both of whom are actors.

Ann Prentiss’s life story is a sad example of how fame and fortune can be fleeting and how mental illness can ruin a person’s potential. She was once a talented and beautiful actress who had a bright future ahead of her, but she ended up dying alone and forgotten in a prison cell.

Doms Desk

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