Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ted Williams: American Cryonaut

I created this blog to help readers locate the final resting places of some of their favorite celebrities and to share some hopefully privileged information on the lives that they led.  This column however, will be a little different.  While Ted Williams' life is one worthy of being profiled, this is more a study of what happened after he died.  Parental guidance is suggested.

Williams was 83 years old when he passed on July 5, 2002.  His had been a life of service, both to his country during two wars and to the sport of baseball.  He was a left fielder with the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, where he had a .344 batting average, scored 521 home runs, and was a two-time recipient of the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.  Other accolades would follow him well into retirement.

By the 1990s, Williams was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a heart disease whose cause is frequently unknown.  During his final years, he'd receive a pacemaker, undergo open-heart surgery, and suffer a series of strokes before finally passing.

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of the story.  "The Splendid Splinter," one of many nicknames by which he was known, had left specific instructions in his will to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered in the Florida Keys.  Some years earlier however, his son John-Henry had gotten to know the staff members of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation (Alcor), a cryonics organization in Scottsdale, Arizona, and considered other final arrangements for his famous father.

Alcor was first established by Fred and Linda Chamberlain in 1972 in Riverside California.  It is a nonprofit human cryopreservation facility that offers its patients the chance at immortality.  Upon death, one is cryogenically frozen and preserved until such time in the future as the cause of death has been cured.  Patients have the option of having their entire bodies frozen or merely their heads (neuropreservation), a far more economical option.  Alcor theorizes that future nanotechnology will make recreating your body a rather simple, everyday task.  They point to the rise of modern 3-D printing technology as a sign of things to come. 

By 2002, Williams was terminal, spending his final hours in his home of Hernando, Florida.  An essay in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader describes what happened next.

"Even as Williams lay dying, a "standby team" dispatched by [Alcor] was at his bedside, waiting patiently for him to breathe his last. Within moments of his being declared dead at 8:49 a.m., the team sprang into action, pumping his body full of blood thinners and packing it in a body bag filled with dry ice for the trip to a nearby airport, where a chartered jet stood by to take it to Alcor headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona."

Uncle John continues.  "By 11:30 p.m. Williams’s body was stretched out on the Alcor operating table. There, in a procedure lasting 37 minutes, a surgeon decapitated the corpse so that head and body could be frozen separately in “dewars,” high-tech steel thermoses filled with liquid nitrogen. Over the next several days, his head and body were slowly chilled to -320°F, and they’ve been floating in what Alcor calls “long-term storage” ever since. Williams’s head reportedly sits in a dewar on a shelf; the rest of his body floats in a much larger dewar several feet away."

An Alcor dewar.
All of this was news to Ted's oldest daughter, Bobby-Jo Ferrell.  In response to her outrage,  John-Henry produced what he called a "family pact," signed by himself, his younger sister Claudia, and allegedly by Ted.  Scribbled on a napkin, it was an agreement between the three to be put into biostasis upon their deaths. 

Bobby-Jo took her family to court, demanding that her father's wishes be honored.  The lawsuit contended that John-Henry had forged his father's signature, but laboratory analysis confirmed it was authentic.  Hmm.  I wonder how much a Ted Williams autographed biostasis agreement goes for. 

As John-Henry had power of attorney, he ultimately won in court.  But karma's a bitch, and he unexpectedly died himself on March 6, 2004.  Readers will be delighted to know that he has been reunited with his father, frozen in a dewar at Alcor.

The white chamber at bottom holds the world's first cryonaut,
frozen in 1976. 
The story brought Alcor into the national spotlight, something it had long been hoping for.  Today, more than 1,500 patients are interred at the facility.  Alcor will even preserve your pets for you.  They also offer tours of the facility.  In the summer of 2014, this blog did just that.

Alcor employs a unique variety of individuals, most of whom are future patients themselves.  The most eccentric of the group is Dr. Mike Perry, a man so devoted to science that, and here's where the parental guidance part comes in, he castrated     himself while still in college using only a razor blade.  Ouch!  Mike not only works for Alcor, but he lives there too.  He is also the founder of a pseudo cult known as the Futurists. Guaranteed, this is one cult where mass suicide will never be a thing.

Upon death, patients are hooked up to a cooling station like this in order to
preserve the body for transport to Alcor.
Wondering if your insurance will cover the costs of Alcor?  The short answer is yes and no.  Check with your provider.

Rest in, um, peace, Ted.

  • HBO produced a fascinating documentary on Ted Williams for their Legends and Legacies series.  Watch it in its entirety here.
  • Author Leigh Montville wrote the definitive Williams biography, Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero.  Check it out on Amazon.
  • Three days after Ted died, a tribute was held at Fenway Park.  View it in its entirety here.
  • Former Alcor employee Larry Johnson wrote a fascinating account of what goes on behind the doors at Alcor.  Read his book Frozen: My Journey Into The World of Cryonics, Deception and Death, available at Amazon.  Also, check out his interview with CBS News here.
  • California detective Alan Kunzman provided a fascinating account of one Alcor patient, who quite perhaps, wasn't ready to be frozen just yet.  Read his account in Mothermelters: The Inside Story of Cryonics and the Dora Kent Homicide, available at Amazon.
  • Interested in being frozen yourself?  Alcor has all the answers you may be asking.  Visit their YouTube Channel for informative videos.
  • CNBC stopped by for a tour.  Check out their report here.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Farrah Fawcett: Six Feet Under

June 25, 2009 was a day I'll never forget.  Farrah Fawcett, a true 70s icon, lost her battle with cancer.  The world was in shock......for about five minutes.  Then that freak show Michael Jackson died too, and Farrah was all but forgotten.  Jerk.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Farrah Leni Fawcett (wow, her real name!) was born on February 2, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Her father worked in the oil fields while her mom raised two girls.  Fawcett once stated in an interview that her mother hade made up the name "Farrah" as it went so well with the family name.  The more you know.

In 1968, Farrah was a student at the University of Texas, majoring in microbiology.  There she was discovered by a Hollywood agent, who all but begged her to come to L.A.  Upon her arrival, she was immediately signed to Screen Gems Production Studio for a whopping $350 a week.  Pretty good money by 60s standards, but unheard of for someone with no prior experience.  She immediately found work in commercials, including this ridiculously cheesy one for Noxzema, co-starring Joe Namath. 

More commercials would follow for companies such as Max Factor and Beautyrest Mattresses.  She also started landing guest spots on popular network series of the time, including The Patridge Family and I Dream of Jeannie. Click on the titles to view her clips.

Farrah's real rise to stardom began in 1976, when an Ohio-based poster company approached her with an idea, one that would captivate teenage boys the world over.  Farrah posed for photographer Bruce McBroom wearing an iconic red swimsuit, after styling her hair by herself and heightening her blond highlights with lemon juice (!).  The poster, seen at right, remains the highest-selling in history.

The poster earned Farrah, who by this point was Mrs. Lee Majors, a supporting role in the sci-fi classic film Logan's Run.  Here's a clip.

Farrah and Lee spent their off time playing tennis, often with producer Aaron Spelling.  It was through this relationship that Spelling would cast her as Jill Munro in the made-for-TV movie Charlie's Angels.  Most people forget it had life before it became a weekly series. Here's the intro for that movie of the week.

Farrah was joined in the cast by Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan and Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett.  Not the Kelly Garrett who is my cousin though.  David Doyle rounded out the cast as their colleague John Bosley.  Charlie himself was never seen on-screen, but was voiced by long-term Spelling associate and veteran actor John Forsythe.

The movie debuted on March 21, 1976.  A ratings smash, it quickly went to series, which had it's formal debut on September 22nd of that year.  Watch the revised series intro here.

When most people think of the series, they usually think of Farrah.  That's ironic, considering that she was only on for one season.  A variety of reasons have been given over the years for why she left so early, but Farrah herself stated that she wanted to broaden her acting opportunities. 

Farrah starred in a number of mostly forgettable films, including Sunburn in 1979 with the horribly miscast Charles Grodin, then later Saturn 3, with Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas.  Her biggest post-Angels success however, was the 1983 made-for-TV classic The Burning Bed, a movie that most likely gave birth to the Hallmark Channel.

Fawcett played real-life battered wife Francine Hughes, a Michigan woman who killed her husband after years of abuse.  Here's a clip from the film, as well as the NBC introduction.

While the film earned Fawcett praise, it would prove to be the last major credit to her career.  Hoping to revitalize it once again, she appeared in the December 1995 issue of Playboy, this time without the red swimsuit.  It proved so popular that she posed again less than two years later in the July 1997 issue.

Making the rounds to promote the issue, Farrah sat down for an interview with David Letterman.  She appeared distracted and confused however, and tended to ramble throughout the interview.  If you love cringeworthy TV, then this clip is for you.

Cancer was no stranger to Farrah, as she'd already lost her sister to it.  So it came as no surprise when she herself was diagnosed with it in 2006.  I won't go in to detail here about what she went through or how she tried to battle the disease, but it sure as hell wasn't pleasant.  She tried a number of therapies over the next three years, but ultimately passed on June 25, 2009.  Here's how Entertainment Tonight covered the story.  Damn you, Michael Jackson.

Fawcett was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in its famed Celebrity Row.  Her nearest neighbors include George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon and Carroll O'Connor.

Rest in peace, Angel.

  • While still a series regular on Charlie's Angels, Farrah appeared with her husband Lee Majors on another ABC series, the hilariously awful Brady Bunch Variety Hour.  Watch a compilation of their scenes together here.

  • While Farrah divorced Majors in 1982, the couple separated as early as 1979.  That year, she started dating Ryan O'Neal, with whom she had her only child, Redmond James Fawcett-O'Neal, born on January 30, 1985.  Here's a recent photo of him, taken after his arrest for attempted murder, burglary, and holding up a convenience store.  Naturally, he blames his parents.