Satisfactions of a Full Life
For a terminal cancer patient typing his last words, I'm quite a happy guy. Having lived a very full life, I'm at peace with my imminent death.
So please don't be sad for me. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been a Twentieth-Century person. Within my lifetime, I've witnessed the birth of television, the dawn of the nuclear age, space travel, the Internet, and an ascendent America.
It was a brief period in history, now passing, when an individual person without great wealth could own and fly his own fast airplane. How amazing that was, to experience the magic of flight, a primal dream of humans for countless prior generations!
As for the rest of my life, I did it all. (At least, that's how tired I feel.) And like the song says, I did it my way. Since my last paycheck, in 1968, I've lived by my wits (and Tracy's).
Instead of a "career path," I probably had a reputation with family and friends of "not sticking with anything." It was true. My projects and ventures came in a tumbling rush of random and impulsive decisions.
The projects ranged from race cars to venture capital and show biz. I wasn't a big success in any of them, but I made a little money and had some unusual life experiences.
For example, the owner of the race cars was Lance Reventlow, the Woolworth heir. Lance was my age, and I would often ride to Riverside Race Track with him in his twin-engine Cessna. His wife at that time was actress Jill St. John, whom Barbara and I once took skiing. (Once was enough; in her skin-tight pink ski outfit she needed a police escort, not ski companions.)
While Lance's lifestyle seemed all fun (he kept a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari, a 1928 Bugatti, and a gull-wing Mercedes in his garage), his demons were less obvious, but I learned he was haunted by doubts that he deserved all his toys. More poignantly, he pointed out that for most rich people, their wealth comes at a bitter cost: "You live your whole life without ever knowing for sure whether a woman truly loves you or a man is a true friend."
That was the Fifties -- a Los Angeles almost gone from living memory: palm trees and art deco buildings, uncrowded streets and no freeways, cadillacs with double fins gleaming in the sun, almost-empty beaches where the girls still wore slightly baggy WWII-style one-piece bathing suits.
Everyone, it seemed, knew a movie star or two. Patti and I were frequent guests for awhile at Burt Lancaster's Malibu beach house barbeques, Patti being a good friend of Burt's lady, Jackie Bone.
Then, like a tsunami, came the Sixties. Suddenly, Los Angeles was one of the world capitals of sex, drugs and rock'n roll. For those too young to remember, the Sixties weren't just about Vietnam war protests, the Kennedys, Watergate and MLK; they were also about women's sexual freedom. For the first time in human history, The Pill enabled women to control reproduction, and for two decades, until HIV appeared in 1981, unprotected sex was relatively safe.
I will spare you my X-rated reminiscenes from those two unique decades. My object here is simply to explain why I'm dying with a smile on my face, which doesn't require the more moist details.
At one point, I was a partner with Michael Milken, the junk bond genius, in one of his more legal deals. He and his overbright minions would spend $200,000 each on a St. Moritz vacation, but within weeks, they'd be hollow-eyed and pasty-faced from slaving 80 hours a week in their fancy Wilshire Blvd. cave while their wives shopped at Rodeo Drive around the corner.
Gradually, I realized this was a pattern: the people who stood atop highly successful businesses were making a lot more money than I needed and having a lot less fun than I wanted.
For one thing, corporations try to keep their top executives in a danger-free bubble, well insulated from nature. For a danger junkie like myself, that would be jail. Fortunately, interludes in my careers have allowed me to live for many years in Hawaii and Mammoth Lakes, with immediate access to my two favorite life-threatening activities: surfing big waves and skiing deep powder through the trees in a blizzard. Always alone.
So among my deepest satisfactions are all those times I've looked outside, studied the forbidding conditions and concluded, "I think I'll go out and scare myself for awhile."
I wonder if Bill Gates has ever had that thought.
Finally, I'm at peace with my imminent death because I have found my own connection with past and future generations, described below in "A Godless Philosophy." (Note: this section is like a self-contained web site within this web site. It can be read for its essence in roughly fifteen minutes. A full read, including a modern update on evolution, will require up to three hours of your time.)