Wealthy sleazoid Cameron Sullivan, in HBO’s hit series “White Lotus”: “I want to get one of those hyperbaric, uh, chambers, you know, put it in the house.”
Sullivan’s former Yale roommate/hapless tech bro Ethan Spiller: “Why?”
Sullivan: “So I can [bleeping] live forever.”
It’s a collective mania among the not-so-idle rich: radical life extension. I remember making fun of artificial speech pioneer Ray Kurzweil more than a decade ago, when he started ingesting hundreds of supplement pills a day and nattering on about “re-programming” his “version 1.0 body.”
I attended an event in 2010 where an NPR reporter asked Kurzweil: “Are you going to live forever? Yes or no?” Kurzweil answered, after some prevarication: “I guess we will have to wait and see.”
Now 74, Kurzweil seems positively old-fashioned by today’s standards.
Bloomberg Businessweek recently profiled Bryan Johnson, 45, “an ultrawealthy software entrepreneur who has more than 30 doctors and health experts monitoring his every bodily function.” Johnson is currently spending about $2 million a year toward the goal of having “the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, tendons, teeth, skin, hair, bladder, penis and rectum of an 18-year-old.”
Each month, according to writer Ashlee Vance, Johnson “endures dozens of medical procedures, some quite extreme and painful, then measures their results with additional blood tests, MRIs, ultrasounds and colonoscopies.” Johnson’s dinner is a “vegetable sludge.” Vance reports that “it felt and tasted like dirt paste.”
My favorite detail? Johnson has “taken 33,537 images of his bowels.” Only 33,000? This guy has spent more time looking at his jejunum than I’ve spent looking at my toes.
You can peruse Johnson’s metabolic “blueprint” online — plenty of bowel pix, by the way — and ask yourself: What could go wrong?
Plenty. During one meeting with Johnson, Vance writes, “His face was so puffed up it looked like he’d spent the afternoon chugging bee venom. … He could have been mistaken for a big, swollen porcelain doll.” It turns out Johnson had been “fat scaffolding,” injecting his face with God-knows-what to “produce genuine, young-person fat cells.”
Johnson is part of a much larger movement: Ice baths, promoted by former Twitter boss Jack Dorsey, extreme fasting (“How Silicon Valley is rebranding eating disorders”), and even biohacking entrepreneur Dave Asprey’s brief-lived chain of Bulletproof coffee shops with “electromagnetic chairs designed to increase customers’ blood flow” that purport to increase your lifespan.
Why shouldn’t well-to-do people want to live longer? Being rich is good work if you can get it. The attending irony is that the well-to-do already outlive everyone else, by almost any measure. According to a new study, wealthy men and women don’t only outlive the proles, they also get eight to nine more healthy years after age 50 than the least fortunate individuals in the United States and in England.
Mortality and renewal are nature’s great gifts to all the species; plants and animals die to nourish other living things. “From famine and death,” Charles Darwin wrote in “The Origin of Species,” “the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”
Thanks for this gift — can we please return it? Our lack of gratitude is more than understandable. The searing pain of the loss of a loved one can last a lifetime. But no longer. Mortality is destiny.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.