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.

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