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Before Paris and Nicky, Charlotte's own Hilton sisters – conjoined twins Daisy and Violet – experienced the dark side of fame

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The Hilton sisters worked at the Park-N-Shop on Wilkinson Boulevard for six years -- one of them working the register while the other weighed and bagged items. Their biography more or less accounts for this time as the only period of relative normalcy the twins ever knew. In fact, the only wrinkle during this time seems to have occurred when they were fired from the Park-N-Shop for a brief while after having bad-mouthed a customer's unruly child. Children were to be indulged in the Reids' grocery store, but considering the misery of the Hilton's own childhood, one can perhaps understand why they might have been intolerant of a spoiled kid.

After being fired, the twins quickly fell on hard times. As Guy Rodgers, their supervisor at the grocery store, told Jensen, "They didn't have money to go to the beauty parlor anymore. Their hair was a mess, half-gray, half-dyed, and stringy. I really felt very sorry for them. One day I took them aside and asked them if they wanted me to try and get them their jobs back. Both of them started crying. They told me how grateful they would be if they were given the chance to be working again."

After their rehiring, their entwined lives seem no more or less interesting than the lives of anyone else who might be employed in a local grocery store. They kept to themselves, eventually moving from their trailer to a home on Weyland Avenue, across from Purcell United Methodist Church, which they attended irregularly during their years in the Queen City.

Perhaps the last hint of scandal occurred when their minister stopped by Daisy and Violet's home to pay a visit. As that minister, John Sills, told the Hiltons' biographer, when he happened by early one day he found the twins drinking and in the company of "Uncle Zeke," the host of a local children's television show.

"I felt a little uncomfortable in this situation," said Sills. "Each of them had a highball in hand, and even though it was still quite early in the day, it was pretty obvious from the way they were talking that all of them had been drinking for some time." While the Reverend Sills was quick to point out that he wasn't suggesting anything inappropriate was occurring, given the Hilton's past, one can't help but wonder.

Around Christmas 1968, Daisy and Violet both came down with the Hong Kong flu, which was an epidemic that season, affecting one in five Americans. Jensen speculates in his biography of the Hilton sisters that their early childhood experiences with physicians -- all negative and all resulting in the twins being treated more like potential experiments than human beings -- kept them away from doctors for too long. The physician who finally did see them in late December 1968 recommended hospitalization because Daisy was so dehydrated and malnourished, but the twins refused to be admitted.

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding their deaths. What is certain is that Daisy died first, either the night of Dec. 31, 1968, or a day or two afterwards. The odds are that Violet was conscious and was aware that her death was also rapidly approaching. (There is a secondhand account of a phone call from Violet to LaRue Reid in the hours after Daisy died that is reported in their biography -- but the logistics of such a call happening, which would have required Violet carrying Daisy's lifeless half of their connected bodies throughout the house -- seems doubtful.) Even though they were reclusive during their time in Charlotte, their routine was quite regular, and when they proved unreachable by phone for several days, Charlie Reid and his wife LaRue called the police and had them break open the door of the Hilton sisters' home. They were found lying on top of a heating grate in the hallway of their home.

What is curious to me, though: Those hours before Violet died she was afforded the one curse all of us take for granted -- she knew what it was to be alone.

As Charles Reid told the Charlotte Observer in 1997: "Every doctor that put their hands on them, the first thing they wanted to do was cut them apart. They could have been separated, even back then, but they didn't want to. They said to me, 'Mr. Reid, we've been together our whole life, we don't ever want to be apart.'"


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