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January 17-24, 2007

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Robert Anton Wilson


Gee, Mr. Wilson

By Bill Forman

'I know I'm going to die sometime soon: five weeks, five months, five years," Robert Anton Wilson told me 18 months ago, in what was to be my first Metro Santa Cruz cover story. "The Chinese say the wise become Confucian in good times, Buddhist in bad times and Taoist in old age. I'm old enough to be a Taoist. I don't take anything very seriously."

Renaissance genius, cosmic prankster and famed author of dozens of tomes including the influential Illuminatus trilogy, Robert Anton Wilson died of natural causes in his Capitola apartment last Thursday, a week shy of his 75th birthday. True to his word, he faced death's approach with the same impish grin he'd carried throughout his life. His final blog entry, penned the previous Saturday, was titled Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.

Here's what he wrote: "Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying. Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd. RAW"

Within days of his death, more than 1,000 fan comments flooded Wilson's website. A few obsessed over the significance of his Jan. 11 departure date, which also happens to be the birthday of LSD inventor Albert Hoffman.

"He's a fan of my books, and I'm a fan of his drugs," Wilson told me, describing Hoffman's smart drug Hydergine as his "current panacea."

"It's a dendrite stimulant," explained Wilson. "Your nervous system has more dendrites than muscles. ... Albert Hoffman is going to have his 100th birthday in January after 25 years on Hydergine, and everybody says he looks as healthy as a 60-year-old." Indeed, while Wilson's body was racked by the effects of post-polio syndrome, his brain was still incredibly sharp, as was his wit.

Wilson recalled how, at age 17, he came across a copy of Polish semanticist Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity while perusing the library bookshelves at Brooklyn Technical High School.

"Korzybski suggested dozens of reforms in our speech and our writings, most of which I try to follow," Wilson told me. "One of them is if people said 'maybe' more often, the world would suddenly become stark, staring sane. Can you see Jerry Falwell saying: "Maybe God hates gay people. Maybe Jesus is the son of God.' Every muezzin in Islam resounding at night in booming voices: 'There is no God except maybe Allah. And maybe Mohammed is the prophet. Think about how sane the world would become after a while."

Maybe it would.

"Well, yeah," said Wilson. "Maybe."

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