X-Message-Number: 13184
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2000 12:12:47 -0500 (EST)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: Promotion; and Timothy Leary

Steve Bridge writes about the Omni Immortality Contest:

> Only 400 or so
> entered the contest and our grand total of responses for information was
> around 2,000, I believe.  We netted something like 30 new members over a
> three-year period able to be tracked to this promotion.  This cost Alcor
> only a few thousand dollars up front, but thousands of man-hours for a very
> small return.

I can't imagine what the up-front costs were, since the negotiations with
Omni were conducted by myself and Ralph Whelan, and incurred no charge,
while the ads in Omni were free. As I recall, Carlos Mondragon was flown
to NY for a TV appearance. Maybe some other travel costs were involved.
But compared with any similar PR initiative in which the company is
featured on the front page of a large-circulation national magazine and
many follow-up interviews are given to radio stations (with one TV
appearance occurring), Alcor got an incredible bargain.

Likewise, if you get 30 signups out of 2000 info requests, I regard that
as a very high ratio indeed.

The real problem was that Alcor does not have the resources to deal with a
huge influx of phone calls which need to be converted somehow into fully
executed legal documents which are extremely complex and boggle the mind
of most applicants. I have pointed this out before, but I guess it has to
be pointed out again: No cryonics organization has the resources to cope
with sudden success on a large scale. Partly this is a financial
limitation. But also it is a matter of finding skilled staff. You can't
run out and recruit 50 fully experienced telephone sales people who are
able to explain all the complexities of the science and practice of human
cryopreservation. You will have to train them for at least two weeks

The other message from Steve's letter is that while the net number of
members derived from the 2000 phone calls seems a good number to me, the
2000 calls themselves are a pitiful response from a PR campaign which
reached, ultimately, several million people. Even a 1 percent return rate
at this level should have resulted in at least 50,000 phone calls. I have
spoken to professional PR people about this. In every case they expressed
amazement that I was able to get so much free publicity (a magazine front
cover followed by a substantial slice of a talk show is considered the
holy grail to which PR people aspire). But they were dismayed when I told
them the results. If we had been selling a more normal product, we should
have been overwhelmed with calls. But, in fact, we were selling a
far-fetched promise to try to provide a future product. We had no workable
product currently available.

This still sounds far too speculative to be taken seriously, even by
readers of Omni magazine as it then was. When and if reversible
cryopreservation can be DEMONSTRATED, it will be a very different
situation. But at that time you will see properly capitalized startups
coming into the field, blowing away the little groups that were nurtured
with so much effort and heartache by enthusiasts, for all these years. The
best we can hope for is that, before we are driven out of business, we
will be able to transfer our patients to the new, large organizations,
using the money that has been set aside as patient care funds. 

At that time, organizations which set aside minimal funding will find
themselves in a more precarious position than organizations that insisted
on more conservative financial arrangements.


Regarding the questions about the Timothy Leary case:

Certainly at the time of the standby there was concern about his insistent
statements to the press claiming that he was contemplating suicide. This
would have meant a) Almost certainly he would have become a coroner's
case, to investigate the causes of death via autopsy of the brain, and b)
Drug residues (many!) would have been found, and c) It would have been
necessary to prove that this was not a case of assisted suicide. Since
Leary's state of mind was poor during the last weeks, a prosecutor could
have alleged that Leary was not competent to make life-and-death
decisions. Under these circumstances, the people who gave him the drugs
could be found guilty of homicide. Since the cryonics team would have been
in the house, probably they would have been arrested along with anyone
else. And, needless to say, an autopsy would have reduced Leary's chances
of resuscitation virtually to zero anyway, since his remains would have
been seized and held at relatively high temperature (certainly above
freezing), and the brain would have been dissected. So, yes, I would say
that as the CryoCare representative on the scene at that time, I was very
concerned about the suicide option.

However, I also began to realize that Leary tended to say anything that
would prolong his press coverage, and I became convinced that he had no
serious interest in suicide. He saw it merely as a way to promote a
serious debate about death in the mass media--or as a way to get his name
into Time magazine yet again (depending how cynically you view his love of
media attention).

Possibly he used cryonics as a similar tool to obtain media attention.
During my few conversations with him, I was unable to ascertain what he
really, truly believed about his own death, and in retrospect I don't
think he seriously believed he was going to die until very near the end.
He had, after all, made a habit of confounding experts and beating the
odds during his entire life.

It was Mike Darwin's decision to remove equipment, because the equipment
belonged to him, and as the principal cryonics care provider, he was most
likely to be a target if any wrongdoing occurred or was alleged. I
concurred with his decision, because I felt Mike had the experience (which
I lacked) to evaluate a standby. Bear in mind that the Leary house was a
chaotic encampment for dozens of acolytes and hangers-on. Drug use was
endemic. Strangers were routinely allowed to join in. Every night was a
party night, and the parties lasted all night. The cryonics equipment
itself was vulnerable to theft or damage, intentionally or
unintentionally. Yet we were not allowed to place someone in the house, or
nearby, because the Learyites who wanted to "make a video of Tim's death"
saw us as being liable to mess up THEIR plans. In fact there was a very
obvious power struggle, regarding who was going to be at the death scene,
and who was going to "manage" it. Chris Graves, a young video producer
with big ambitions, became Leary's trusted confidant, and subsequently
cryonics team members had a very difficult time getting access, although
Graves always claimed he wasn't shutting us out, he was merely acting on
behalf of Leary's wishes.

When the equipment was pulled out, Leary was told very explicitly that we
were going to remain on call and we wanted to be there if there was any
change in his condition. As soon as he realized we were serious about
continuing the cryonics option, he called me and told me he wanted to
cancel the arrangement because he had "other plans." In reality, he had no
plans at all, because I think he still didn't believe he was going to die
imminently. John Perry Barlow subsequently made it clear that he had been
influential in persuading Leary to renounce cryonics. Barlow hated
cryonics because he believes in the natural cycle of life. I swapped email
with him on this topic, unproductively, after Leary died.

Friends of Leary were naturally very distressed by his death without
cryopreservation. Since I devoted six weeks of my time to the standby, and
exposed myself to the contagious disease that Leary was suffering (in
addition to his prostate cancer and malnutrition), obviously I wanted very
much to see him properly cryopreserved. In fact, the cryonicists who said
they were close friends of Leary did not stay on the scene and help to
arrange a properly organized cryopreservation, as we tried to. Those who
loved Leary most were actually least able to persuade him to cooperate
(e.g. by moderating some of the total chaos in his home), because Leary
had been such a powerful presence in their lives, they were unable or
unwilling to tell him what to do. This also explains why he was able to
die primarily of malnutrition, when he was surrounded by people who were
willing to do absolutely anything for him. If he refused to eat, no one
had the authority to force the issue. He was, after all, Timothy Leary.

The standby was one of the most frustrating and upsetting experiences of
my life. I admired Leary greatly for his courage and his record as a
radical. He was a great man. But like most great men, who know they are
great, he was absolutely impossible to deal with, if you wanted him to do
something for your convenience, not his. Just getting him to an
appointment for medical tests was almost impossible, because he didn't
really want the tests. He wanted to follow the adage, "don't worry, be
happy" right up to the moment of his death. Cryonics cannot be done under
these circumstances. A remote standby has to be run with almost military
precision, and the emergency treatments following legal death must be
administered according to an exacting timetable, if this procedure is to
have any real chance of working. I came to the conclusion there was no way
to accomplish this in the "be happy" environment at the Leary
mansion--although I would have still been willing to try, if Leary had
really wanted it.

As for the movie of his head being frozen: It is, of course, a fake.

--Charles Platt

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=13184