The Crowded Room True Story: Danny Sullivan’s Real Criminal Case Explained

Warning! This article may contain spoilers for The Crowded RoomThe new Apple TV+ show The crowded room centered its narrative around his complex character, Danny Sullivan, as he drew inspiration from the true story that reshaped the justice system. Played by Tom Holland, Danny’s life takes a turn after he is arrested for a shooting he committed at Rockefeller Center in 1979. As Rya Goodwin, played by Amanda Seyfried, talks to Danny, bits and pieces of his past emerge, making shed light on the moments in his past that shaped him and led him to commit the crime.


This psychological thriller was inspired by the 1981 non-fiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes, which depicted the first person in U.S. history acquitted of a serious felony for pleading dissociative identity disorder. Akiva Goldsman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of A brilliant mind, wrote and executive produced the series. The crowded room delved into the themes of mental illness, which offered an exploration of the complexities of the human mind.

Danny Sullivan of The Crowded Room is inspired by Billy Milligan

The Crowded Room: Danny Sullivan is inspired by Billy Milligan

Goldsman drew inspiration from and shaped the character of Danny Sullivan The crowded room after the life of Billy Milligan. After Billy’s father committed suicide when he was four, his mother remarried Chalmer Milligan, who physically, sexually and emotionally abused Billy. Psychiatrists have deduced that Chalmer first sodomized Billy in a barn near their home when he was eight years old. This continued abuse, coupled with the traumatic loss of his father at a young age, caused his personality to split. Billy was said to have 24 different personalities all fighting for control of his body which led to the crimes he committed.

These personalities included Arthur, a petty British man who controlled who got to take over the mind, Ragen Vadascovinich, who gave Billy super strength, and Allen, who cleaned up the other personalities’ messes. One of Billy’s personalities described his mind as a dark room with a light in the center where the personalities would position themselves to gain control of Billy’s mind. When the mind was unconscious, the personalities were able to interact with each other and became what was described as a family.

Billy Milligan’s 1977 arrest and crimes explained

The Crowded Room: Billy Milligan's 1977 Arrests and Crimes Explained

In 1977 Billy was indicted on three counts of kidnapping, three counts of aggravated robbery, and four counts of rape of women on the Ohio State campus. Prior to this arrest, he had already served time in a juvenile teething facility, in prison, and attempted suicide. He was released from prison six months before the crimes he committed in 1977. During his legal proceedings, Billy was appointed a public defender to represent him, and when subjected to his psychiatric evaluation, Billy claimed he had no memory of the crimes he committed. had committed. accused of.

Billy blamed his alter Regan, who controlled the place while in prison, for the robberies and Adalana, a melancholy lesbian, for the rape. An USO police officer who drove with Billy to the police station said in an interview in 2007 for The Columbus Dispatch, “I couldn’t tell you what was going on, but it was like I was talking to different people at different times.” During his psychiatric exam, the first hint of his multiple personalities was when the psychiatrist called him Billy, to which he replied, “Billy is sleeping. I’m David.”

Billy Milligan was the first person found not guilty of a violent crime due to dissociative identity disorder

The Crowded Room: Billy Milligan was the first person found not guilty of a violent crime due to dissociative identity disorder

Psychiatrist George T. Harding and psychoanalyst Cornelia Wilbur were called in to evaluate Billy, and they discovered ten different personalities, eight boys and two girls, and later discovered that he had a total of 24. These personalities ranged from a three-year-old girl to a 22-year-old Englishman. Harding and Wilbur diagnosed Billy with multiple personality disorder, as Billy had been “asleep” for the past seven years. Billy’s attorneys then pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, as Billy himself was not the one who committed the crimes.

Prosecutor in the case, Bernard Yavitch, also said: “I saw multiple personalities. His speech was different, his accents were different. He sat different ways in the chair.” Some in the medical community decried the claim and declared that it was a figure of speech or an act. However, on December 4, 1978, Billy Milligan was found not guilty by reason of insanity on the basis of multiple personality disorder, which was the first case to be so ruled.

What happened to Billy Milligan after his acquittal

The Crowded Room: What Happened to Billy Milligan

Following his acquittal, Billy was transferred to Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital, where he resided for the next 11 years. During his time there, he collaborated with Daniel Keyes on The Minds of Billy Milligan, which influenced The crowded room. Billy continued to make his way into the headlines as he escaped from the hospital in 1986 until he was caught a few months later. He was discharged from the hospital in 1988 and in 1991 was no longer under state supervision.

After Billy regained his freedom, he briefly resided in California before returning to Ohio to live in a mobile home his sister bought for him. In 2014, Billy died of cancer at age 59 in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Notably, in 1994, the term multiple personality disorder changed to dissociative identity disorder to better reflect the condition. Mulligan is a prime example of how rehabilitation can offer a more compassionate alternative to discipline for people who have experienced significant trauma.

The True Story of Billy Milligan has nearly been adapted several times before Apple’s The Crowded Room

Crowded Room: The True Story of Billy Milligan has almost been adapted several times

Apple TV+ was not the first adaptation of The crowded room, as the first name assigned to bring the story to life was James Cameron. However, due to lengthy negotiations and financial changes, the project fell through, causing Billy to sue Cameron and fellow producer Sandra Arcara. This lawsuit was also a significant factor in Cameron’s decision to walk away from the project, as he said, “He got into this whole thing because he wanted his story told. He was running around creating more chaos, filing lawsuits. She has turned to madness.”

David Fincher, Joel Schumacher and Steven Soderbergh were other names who showed up to helm the project, but none came to fruition. In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio warmed to the adaptation, but like previous attempts, it was unsuccessful. As the book adaptation continued to fall through, M. Night Shyamalan released Split in 2016, which took inspiration from Billy Milligan for the character of Jame McAvoy. The crowded room on Apple TV+ will be the first true adaptation of the book, offering a narrative based on Billy Milligan’s Life.

The crowded room premieres June 9 on Apple TV+.

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