The Quick 8: Eight People Who Have Been Cryonically Preserved (and one who wasn't)

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1. Dr. James Bedford, a psych professor at the University of California, was the first person to ever be cryonically preserved. The choice to be preserved by freezing was entirely his; he even left money for a steel capsule and liquid nitrogen in his will. So, when he died on January 12, 1967, his family abided by his wishes. It was a big day in the cryonics community, and they still refer to January 12 as "Bedford Day." My favorite part of the whole thing is the title of the article Time magazine did on event: "Never Say Die." Bedford was switched to a different tank in 1991 and it would appear that everything has held up thus far.

clair on ice2. Dick Clair Jones was in the television industry: he was a producer, actor and writer who had a hand in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Facts of Life and Mama's Family. He was also really interested in cryonics and was a member of the Cryonics Society of California. In 1988, he died of AIDS-related infections and was immediately put on ice – literally, as you can see from the picture. There's an account of the whole process here, which is fascinating, if not bizarre.

3. Thomas K. Donaldson, a mathematician, had ideas about death that were even stranger than cryonics. He believed that even though people were "dead," their brains continued to exist and have functionality and we just don't have the technology to access it yet. For his sake, let's hope that's true; he died in 2006 and is assumed to have been cryonically preserved. He seemed to be pretty confident that he would be back someday; in a 1982 interview, when asked for a piece of wisdom to pass on to cryonicists, he said, "I'm sure that any profound piece of wisdom I might have would seem really rather stupid in 300 years. So I think it would be better for me to say nothing, so I don't feel ashamed of myself in 300 years."

4. FM-2030. Yeah, that was his real name. He was born Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, but changed his name to reflect his goal of living to be 100 (2030 would have been his 100th birthday). He also predicted that 2030 would be "a magical time. In 2030 we will be ageless and everyone will have an excellent chance to live forever. 2030 is a dream and a goal."

He died in 2000 at the age of 69 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was cryogenically frozen because he believed that people would soon develop synthetic organs and body parts that would make the notion of death a thing of the past. He called the pancreas a "stupid, dumb, wretched organ," which kind of made me laugh.

5. Dora Kent is a sad tale (maybe). Her son, Saul, was a board member of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation (most of these cryogenically-frozen people were frozen by Alcor and are stored in their facilities). In 1987 at the age of 84, she came down with a fatal case of pneumonia and was unable to recover. When it looked like death was upon her, she was brought to the Alcor facilities so they could freeze her when she died. And they did, with no doctor present. When a coroner later inspected her headless body (Alcor removed the head for scientific purposes, I guess), he first agreed with the pneumonia assessment, and then reversed his decision and said he thought she was murdered. Certain metabolites found in her body led him to believe that she was alive when they started to freeze her. He demanded Dora's head for further testing, and Alcor refused to produce it. Some of the Alcor members were arrested, but nothing came of it and no one was ever charged with anything.

6. Jerry Leaf was Alcor's vice president until his death in 1991, so it only stands to reason that he was frozen when he died of heart attack.

williams7. Ted Williams is without a doubt the most famous cryogenically frozen person (that we know of). But the circumstances surrounding his freezing are a bit controversial. His son, John-Henry Williams, was adamant that his father wanted to be preserved to be brought back in the future, and wanted his whole family to follow suit so they could be reunited when technology and medicine made it possible. However, Ted's will said he wanted to be cremated, and his daughter by his first wife took John-Henry to court over the matter. John-Henry produced a "family pact" signed on a cocktail napkin, which seems pretty strange to me. Why would you write your last wishes on a cocktail napkin and expect it to hold up in court? Anyway, after much debate over authenticity, the napkin-pact was allowed and Ted was frozen. Which leads us to number eight...

8. John-Henry Williams. Yep, Ted's son stayed true to his word. Despite a bone marrow transplant from his sister, John-Henry died of leukemia on March 6, 2004, and joined his dad at Alcor in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Noticeably missing from the list? Walt Disney. Despite the persisting rumors, Walt was not frozen. After his death in 1966, Walt was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

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February 11, 2009 - 10:23am
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