Saturday, July 30, 2011

Deceased--Robert C. W. Ettinger

Robert C. W. Ettinger
December 4th, 1918 to July 23rd, 2011

"Robert C. W. Ettinger, 92, Dies; Proponent of Life After (Deep-Frozen) Death"


Paul Vitello

July 29th, 2011

The New York Times

Robert C. W. Ettinger, a science fiction writer and physics instructor whose idea of freezing the dead for future reanimation repelled most scientists, inspired Woody Allen and Mike Myers to some of their best work and persuaded at least 105 game humans to pay $28,000 each to have their bodies preserved in liquid nitrogen at his Cryonics Institute in suburban Detroit, died on July 23 at his home in Clinton Township, Mich. He was 92.

The cause was respiratory failure, said his son, David, who added that Mr. Ettinger’s body was placed in a cryonic capsule and frozen at minus 371 degrees Fahrenheit, after several days of cooling preparation. Mr. Ettinger was the institute’s 106th client, David Ettinger said.

Mr. Ettinger’s ideas, which he popularized in a 1963 book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” spawned what some refer to as the cryonics movement, though by most accounts it is a small endeavor: a scattering of enterprises around the country with dues-paying customers totaling a few thousand, a few hundred of whom have actually been deep-frozen.

The baseball legend Ted Williams, whose freezing at an unrelated Arizona facility in 2002 set off a well-publicized family feud, is probably the most notable cryonics adherent. But Mr. Ettinger’s earnest vision of future scientists cracking the secret of immortality and bringing back to life the deep-frozen dead — curing them and making them young again — struck that sweet spot between kooky and quasi-scientific that television talk-show hosts loved in the early 1960s.

He was on Johnny Carson’s couch a half-dozen times, and also submitted to interviews with Steve Allen, David Frost, Merv Griffin and William F. Buckley Jr.

“Most of them didn’t take my dad seriously,” said David Ettinger, a lawyer in Detroit, “but that never really bothered him. He was an iconoclast. Being treated like a nut just went with the territory.”

Mr. Ettinger’s ideas were widely considered the set-up for the joke at the center of Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, “Sleeper,” in which the hero emerges from “cryostasis” to learn that all his friends are long dead — “But they all ate organic rice!” — and Mike Myers’s Austin Powers series, based on basically the same idea.

While working as a math and physics instructor at a number of local colleges, Mr. Ettinger wrote a second book, published in 1972: “Man Into Superman,” a utopian sci-fi rendering of how the world might look when the cryonic dead are revived. (Among other things, scientists will equip humans with wings and body armor made of hair.) In 1976, after retiring from teaching, he founded the Cryonics Institute, adopting the word “cryonics” from cryogenics, a field of physics that studies how materials behave at very low temperatures.

His mother, Rhea, who died in 1977 at 78, was his first so-called patient.

The bodies of his first wife, Elaine, and his second wife, Mae, were also preserved at the institute’s facility, a large warehouse in an industrial park in Clinton Township, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit.

Besides 106 humans, the plant holds about 80 pets, mostly dogs and cats, according to the institute’s Web site. The institute claims 900 dues-paying members.

In interviews, Mr. Ettinger traced his earliest interest in the possibility of immortality to a story he read when he was 12 in the popular science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. It was about a professor who launched himself in a rocket into deep-frozen outer space, where he remained entombed for 40 million years until an advanced species of men discovered him and revived him.

His interest was confirmed during long stays in various hospitals after World War II, while he was recovering from near-fatal wounds suffered during the Battle of the Bulge. His legs were saved by bone-graft surgery, which was considered experimental at the time.

The miraculous surgery convinced him that there might be a way someday to fix anything, even death. “Life is better than death, healthy is better than sick,” he told the author Ed Regis in a 1990 interview, “and immortality might be worth the trouble.”

While recovering, he wrote a number of science fiction stories on that theme, several of which were published in popular magazines of the 1950s.

Robert Chester Wilson Ettinger was born Dec. 4, 1918, in Atlantic City, one of two children of Rhea and Alfred Ettinger. The family moved in the 1920s to Detroit, where Alfred Ettinger operated a furniture store.

After the war, Mr. Ettinger received master’s degrees in math and physics at Wayne State University, and began teaching. Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Shelley, of New York City.

In the last months of his life, Mr. Ettinger and his son arranged for procedures that would have to be done in the first few hours after he died, to maximize the benefits of cryonic freezing.

They notified the funeral home where he would be embalmed with a kind of medical antifreeze to protect tissue from damage. They arranged for 24-hour nursing care, mainly so they would know the exact moment to begin the procedures.

At one point, his son said, Mr. Ettinger allowed himself to think past the technicalities of the freezing to what his life might be like if he were ever unfrozen. Since the war, with one leg shorter than the other, he had not been one for sports.

“So when I come back,” he told his son, “I’d like to try skiing.”

LinkThe Prospect of Immortality


Robert C. W. Ettinger

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Robert C. W. Ettinger [Wikipedia]

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