March 11, 2023

Source: Bigstock

GSTAAD—The man in the white suit is not exactly a matinee idol around these parts. The mauvaises langues have it that the rich fear him more than the poor because they have more to lose. I’m not so sure, although it does make sense. It did not in the past: Spartan kings were on the first line of battle, unflinchingly eager to show their troops how to die. Samurais worshipped a heroic death, shunned opulence, but were employed by very rich patrons who answered to all their needs. It was a symptom of the times. Teutonic knights, and those of the Round Table, officers during the Napoleonic Wars, all had a lot to lose but fought bravely and to the death. I could go on about scions of rich gentry who led attacks for both sides in World War I. The Japanese, needless to say, rich or poor, turned courage into a death cult.

No longer. Not too many multimillionaires died in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, in fact I can’t think of anyone offhand. Oliver Stone had a very rich mother and was awarded a Bronze Star in the Nam, but at the time he served he was penniless. As were Chuck Pfeiffer and Billy David, both decorated, both close buddies of mine, both dead broke while fighting but striking it rich later on. Nah, maybe the WASPish gossips have it right: The rich fear the man in the white suit more than the poor.

“If I were a Sackler I’d want to live for as long as possible and avoid contact with those the family’s enriching product knocked off.”

If the gossips are right, they must be trembling more in St. Moritz than up here in Gstaad, and not only because it’s a lot higher and colder. It’s because the rich in St. Moritz are much richer than their Gstaad counterparts. The reason I write about fear of death and wealth is the recent conference that took place here in Gstaad. It was called the Longevity Investors Conference, and the two-day event apparently was a great success. There were scientists and biotech founders looking for rich investors who wished to avoid the man in the white suit and are willing to pay any price to do so.

Deep-pocketed investors who wish to live longer are not very hard to find around these parts. I did not attend because watching old men do push-ups in order to prove to investors that with exercise one can defy nature is nothing new—to me, at least. Had the conference advertised how one can live longer while smoking, drinking, and many other things, I would have been there in a flash. But what they were selling is a long life as long as one doesn’t drink, smoke, chase women all night, or take drugs. What the hell is so miraculous about that? The other thing the scientists did not elaborate on was boredom. I think that if I lived a perfectly healthy life the man in the white suit would have visited me long ago.

One Mortimer Sackler, who is the son of the departed synonymous Sackler, whose OxyContin made him a billionaire and killed 500,000 Americans, attended the conference but was informed by the organizers that his moola was unwelcome. He nevertheless remained in person and followed the proceedings with great interest. I suppose having a father who knocked off half a million, he’s not exactly eager to join them anytime soon. None of us are certain of this, but there could be hell to pay down there when one’s time comes. If I were a Sackler I’d want to live for as long as possible and avoid contact with those the family’s enriching product knocked off.

Never mind. Hype and hope go together like rum and coke, and from what I was told about the conference, the case was made for various approaches to prolonging the years, but all were based on a healthy lifestyle. If I had attended I would have demanded they come up with something original, like prolonging life with cigarettes, whiskey, and cocaine. The person who comes up with that one will make Elon Musk a pauper by comparison. Let’s hope someone reads this and hits the books and comes up with an invention that will ensure that all us good-time Charlies—starting with my buddy Jeremy Clarke—live to 120.

Yep, fending off the man in white will cost you, although it’s the quality of life that matters, not the length. The young are not expected to understand that the brutality of old age is the problem, not life and death. I think of Jeremy daily but continue to drink and smoke for as long as I can. The second-largest crowd that attended the Gstaad Symposium—the largest by far was Lady Thatcher’s visit—was when a professor-chemist friend of mine announced he would soon have a pill that prolonged life by a quarter. He’s still alive—just—and the pill turned out to be no better than aspirin.

So, will the very rich obtain a Sue Gray type of shortcut to a longer life? I’m betting against it, but it’s fun watching them try. All in all, not everybody wants to live forever—Gianni Agnelli, who died twenty years ago, did not. He had prostate cancer, tried a new American method that didn’t work at all, and went merrily on his way, asking me over the telephone why a friend of ours had fallen out of my chalet window the night before. My advice is, bottoms up.


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