Florence Tullis Cause of Death: How the Mother of Mask Died

Florence Tullis, also known as Rusty Tullis, was the mother of Rocky Dennis, a boy who suffered from a rare and disfiguring disease called craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. Her life and struggles were portrayed by Cher in the 1985 film Mask, which was loosely based on her son’s biography. But how did Florence Tullis die and what was her cause of death?

A Life of Challenges and Courage

Florence Tullis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 29, 1936. She had a troubled childhood and dropped out of school at the age of 15. She worked as a dancer at Coney Island and married her first husband, Tommy Mason, when she was 17. They had a son, Joshua, but the marriage was unhappy and abusive. She moved back to her parents’ home and later married her second husband, Roy Dennis, in 1961. They moved to Covina, California, where their son Rocky was born on December 4, 1961.

Rocky appeared healthy at birth, but when he was about two years old, an X-ray technician noticed abnormalities in his skull. He was diagnosed with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a rare condition that causes excessive calcium deposits in the skull, resulting in facial deformities and reduced vision and hearing. Doctors told Florence that Rocky would not live past his seventh birthday and that his intelligence would be impaired.

Florence refused to accept the grim prognosis and insisted that Rocky lead a normal life as much as possible. She enrolled him in public school and fought against the discrimination and bullying he faced. She also encouraged him to pursue his interests in history, geography, art, and music. She was a member of a biker gang called the Turks and often took Rocky with her on motorcycle trips. She taught him to have a positive attitude and a sense of humor despite his challenges.

Rocky defied the doctors’ expectations and lived until he was 16 years old. He died on October 4, 1978, from sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS), a condition that causes unexpected cardiac arrest in young people with no apparent heart problems.

A Tragic End for Florence Tullis

After Rocky’s death, Florence Tullis struggled with depression, drug addiction, and financial difficulties. She lost custody of her other son, Joshua, who was also addicted to drugs and died of AIDS in 1987. She remarried several times but none of her marriages lasted. She also had several brushes with the law for drug possession, theft, and fraud.

In 1985, she agreed to let filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich make a movie based on Rocky’s life story. She hoped that the movie would help raise awareness about craniodiaphyseal dysplasia and inspire other people with disabilities and their families. She also received $15,000 for the rights to her story and $100,000 for consulting on the film.

However, she was unhappy with the way the film portrayed her and her son. She claimed that the film exaggerated her drug use and involvement with bikers and that it omitted many of Rocky’s achievements and personality traits. She also sued Bogdanovich for breach of contract, alleging that he promised her more money and creative control over the film. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Florence Tullis died on November 11, 2006, at the age of 70. She had been involved in a motorcycle accident a month earlier and suffered multiple injuries. She contracted an infection while recovering at a hospital in Montebello, California, and succumbed to septic shock.

A Legacy of Love and Strength

Florence Tullis may have had a turbulent and tragic life, but she also showed remarkable love and strength as a mother of a son with a rare disease. She fought for Rocky’s rights and dignity and supported him throughout his short but meaningful life. She also raised awareness about craniodiaphyseal dysplasia and inspired other people who faced similar challenges.

Her story is not only captured in the film Mask, but also in a book by Barry Morrow called Rocky Dennis: A Promise Kept and in a documentary by Jennifer Steinman called Motherland. Her story is also remembered by many people who knew her personally or through her son’s legacy.

Florence Tullis cause of death may have been tragic, but her life was also full of courage and compassion. She was a mother who loved her son unconditionally and a woman who lived by her own rules. She was, in the words of Cher, who played her in the film, “a very special person”.

Doms Desk

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