Nothing pisses on our parade like “death.” It is responsible for countless awesome people like Socrates, MJ and my grandfather not being around to hang out anymore. It’s a huge bummer and it’s coming for everyone. Indeed, ecologists claim that absolutely every living creature gets the same finite amount of energy, the same 100 million or so heartbeats, and that’s that. Yes, it seems that “no one here gets out alive,” and there’s not much we can do about it. Or is there?
Some have claimed that we can attain a kind of immortality through our genes or our work. Or perhaps as an “idea” or a “meme.” Or even in “heaven,” all super-powered-up with nowhere to go. All manners of nonsense, be it rationale, ritual, or religion, have been erected to cope with the hard reality of death. But it takes an especially delusional thrust of thought to believe that we can live forever in the most literal sense. Here are five historical figures who didn’t worry about things like “entropy” or “common sense,” and took the whole “never say die” mentality to the next level.
Leonard “Live-Forever” Jones (1797–1868)
Jones believed that anyone could live forever if they just prayed hard enough. Okay, heard that before, but he upped the ante by being a total eccentric who made rad claims like having the ability to “melt diamonds” and “actually being literally immortal.” He also repeatedly ran for president of the United States solely on a platform of immortality. Incredibly, voters didn’t buy into the most awesome campaign promise of all time, possibly fearing the autocratic overtones of electing an “immortal” head-of-state.
Leonard Jones died on Aug. 30, 1868, after catching pneumonia and attempting to pray his way out of the illness.
Ted Williams (1918 – 2002)
We inherently trust that “the future,” that Valhalla of hover-boards and robocops, will have all the coolest answers for everything. Ted Williams, the storied Red Sox slugger, believed it so hard that he decided to be placed in cryonic suspension upon his death and chill until he could be revived by future technology. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona was happy to oblige his desire to, as their brochure states, “take a brief intermission before Act II.”
Ted Williams died on July 5, 2002. According to a 2003 Sports Illustrated report, his body is stored upside-down in a 9-foot-tall steel container at -320 degrees Fahrenheit. His decapitated head, drilled with holes and cracked during the freezing process, rests on a nearby shelf in a steel can.
Qin Shi Huangdi (259 BCE – 210 BCE)
The First Emperor of China harboured a life-long obsession with immortality, sending subjects to all corners of our non-cornered world in efforts to find an elixir of life. No one ever came back, so he had court doctors prescribe “immortality pills” of pure mercury in yet another example of classic “olden day stupidity.”
Qin Shi Huangdi died of mercury poisoning in 210 BC. Ironically, death did not completely stop him, as subjects continued to cart his corpse around Weekend at Bernie’s-style for a couple months afterward.
Raymond Roussel (1877 – 1933)
Roussel was a fin-du-siècle writer and crazier than a shithouse bear. Little-regarded today, his proto-Surreal fiction is rife with bizarre allusions to physical immortality. His masterwork Locus Solus, for instance, contains fevered passages about a mad scientist animating corpses with a “resurrectine” solution and placing them in a giant glass cage. Roussel himself hauled a coffin around with him everywhere he went, in which he rested periodically to “save up” his life, and which probably made for a pretty decent, if impractical, conversation piece.
Roussel died alone in squalid Paris hotel on July 14, 1933. He was not in his coffin at the time.
Alex Chiu (1971 – )
Chiu is an inventor who sings Alphaville’s “Forever Young” and sells “immortality devices” on his animated-GIF-heavy homepage. Dubbed “the most imporatnt (sic) invention in human history,” these plastic magnetic rings apparently add 30 days of life for each day of wear. In 2004, Chiu, of slight build and Asian descent, tried to trade some immortality rings in exchange for the titular role in the film Superman Returns. When producers declined, a jilted Chiu specifically refused to give any rings to a gravely ill Christopher Reeve, who then died later that year.
According to current UN life expectancy figures, Alex Chiu can expect to die in 2046.
In summary, attempts to live forever never disappoint, in that they always disappoint. But, hey, maybe dying isn’t such a terrible thing after all. Consider the philosophical implications of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal,” a story in which living forever just becomes mind-destroyingly boring because nobody ever gets around to doing anything. If we ever did somehow overcome death, lives divested of meaning might be the most likely result. Indeed, everything that is loved is loved by contrast. We love life, we cherish the moment, if only because we’re all too aware of the alternative.