Never Die

Reinvent Yourself

Dr. Lord Lee-Benner, in a state of undress, stands barefoot in the men's locker room of Newport Beach's Four Seasons Hotel. Tanned, well-muscled and toned, he is a 65-year-old man whose body looks younger and better than virtually all men his age, 20 years his junior and even a lot of men born 40 years after him. He is not shy about his body. Ask him about his stomach-his “abs,” as workout wonks are wont to call it-and he's quick to lift a jersey veil to reveal a region concave and ribbed, the result it seems of good, clean, gulag living. He works out nearly every day at the Four Seasons-where they pay two guys to open the lobby door for you-walking there each day from his Big Canyon home just across the street. He has appeared in magazine ads for the Benner Institute, his Costa Mesa anti-aging clinic, in a snug-fitting polo shirt with a smaller photo inserted of himself in nothing more than bikini trunks, a flexed upper body and a pressed-on smile. He is the best ad for his clinics, living evidence that if you follow his directions, eat as he eats, exercise as he exercises, and inject yourself as he injects himself, you can look, feel and be as good as him. He says: “I've had a great life, a full life. I have a good sex life, make love every day-that's important to do. You don't have to have an orgasm, but you should have sex everyday.”

You should. If you don't, okay for you.

He's tired of preaching to those who won't listen. Those who want to believe are welcomed in, are given his secrets; he changes their lives, their skin, their muscle tone. This is not cosmetic surgery; this is not a few minutes on the stair climber. This is a whole life makeover. He believes his methods not only make one look younger and feel younger but also actually hold off the aging process and the diseases associated with growing old.

His clients vary in age, though he would like to see more people in their 30s coming. You're never too young to think about getting old. He says a lot of his clients are men in their 40s and 50s with young wives. Some of his clients are women who are nervous about whether they'll be able to hold on to their husbands. He says, “I can turn around someone in three months,” and they pay him up to $20,000 per month to do it, and he's not apologizing for it.

You think you can get something better, cheaper? Good luck. He's got his body, his clinic, rich clients who fly him out to their homes to set up nutritional regimens with their personal chefs and exercise regimens with their personal trainers. Think he's full of it? Can't take a doctor seriously who poses in a magazine in his underwear? Fine. He doesn't need you. He doesn't need doctors who think the same way. He is exactly where and who he always wanted to be. He does not need-not needing being powerful stuff when you grow up in orphanages and foster homes, when you clean out stables to make ends meet, when you join the U.S. Navy at 17 because there's nobody to say don't, because a stint in the Navy flying torpedo bombers seems a lot better than living by yourself in a cheap Miami hotel.

He says, “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a shower.”

He has finished another two-hour workout, sharing gym space with tourists who loll on stationary bikes watching CNN. He goes about his workouts methodically, not talking, not making eye contact with those who share the weights and benches. When you ask him a question, he doesn't look at you but instead concentrates on the weight in his hands, its position in relation to his body.

You ask, “So, why did you end up following your present path?” or something like that, and he says, “I've never fit in,” fly-pressing two 40-pound dumbbells in front of his chest. “There just came a point where conventional medicine no longer satisfied me.”

Actually, it was death that got him. The kids in the cancer ward and the nice old men. Emerging from the shower, heading over to the sinks and the complimentary shaving equipment, he tells you about a derelict named Joe who was terribly burned, whose IV bottles he changed himself. He says: “I cared for and nursed him myself. I wouldn't let him die.” He was just an intern then, and when he was rotated off Joe, he left copious notes about how he was to be cared for. “He died three days later,” he says as he lathers his face. “That hurt me a lot.” Then there was McGillicutty-cancer of the gall bladder-for whom he would mix a concoction of bile and orange juice each day, a concoction, imitating McGillicutty's brogue, called “the most wonderful prune juice.” Grabbing his ear lobe, pulling it away from his head and shaving clean the stretched area between, he says: “One night, he died on me. That nearly destroyed me.”


By the early 1970s, he was talking and writing about nutrition and exercise as ways to avoid disease to prolong life. He was talking and writing about the mind-body connection, he was talking about using growth hormones to keep the body young. Soon he began injecting himself twice daily in the stomach with the hormones, as he does to this day, as he has his patients do.

The idea of accepting one's lot-accepting death, accepting growing old-was anathema to the way he had survived. This much you know about Lee-Benner's childhood. He doesn't talk about it. He says, “I don't want to talk about any of that,” and he doesn't, not directly. You have to pick up the crumbs of things muttered as asides to other questions. You ask, “So, who told you you had a good head for medicine?” and he says, “No one.” Then, turning his head, he says quickly: “No one ever told me I had a good head for anything. The only thing they thought my head was good for was hitting. I spent most of my time ducking.” He mentions foster homes but then adds quickly, “I never had anyone to raise me.” You ask, “So, how did you get a name like Lord?” He shrugs and then says, “I tell people that the day they were naming all the kids in the orphanage, I was last in line. When they finally got to me, they said 'Oh, Lord!' and someone said, 'Sounds good to me.'”

He looks at you in a way to let you know that is all you will be getting on that and then turns away and mutters, “That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.”

By 15, he was on his own, and by 17, he was in the Navy. After the Navy, in 1963, he went to college at Emory University in Atlanta, and then he went on to study medicine because “I could never imagine living in ignorance and having to go to someone else to tell me about my life,” he says. “My style is to master life.”

Residencies and practices followed, including one in rural South Carolina, where he cared for farmers and sometimes delivered their cows. But, he says, every step of the way, he had the uncomfortable feeling that his healing came in the play's third act, attacking the problem after it had surfaced. He began to think more about prevention of disease, about the very basics of life: Does someone actually have to grow old?

He began to put forward the idea that the body could be replenished with human growth hormones, began to look at diet and exercise, at the mind-body connection. This was the early 1970s, and his ideas pushed him to the fringe of the medical community. Though, privately, more than a few doctors told him they were intrigued by his ideas, he was increasingly shunned. Though they sent him their hopeless cases, the same doctors were scared “to be seen in the same elevator with me.”

“So do doctors still send you referrals?” you ask, and he fixes you with a brow-laden stare that makes it seem you have asked him if he regularly communicates with other planets. “No,” he says, slapping aftershave on his face. “I don't get any more referrals from other doctors.”

By the early '80s, he'd had enough of all that. He resigned his hospital residencies and established his first clinic in Beverly Hills, which became a quick success; he turned patients away. He found open minds-not to mention wallets-among the non-medical community. He takes over their lives in many ways, decreeing what they will eat and how they will exercise, rest and retune their minds.

Ultimately, his methods are spiritual because “life is a journey back to God,” he says, as he sprays the hotel-provided deodorant under his arms. The clinic did so well that about 10 years later, in the early '90s, he was able to retire. He and his wife moved to Europe, where they remained for almost two years before coming back to California and opening shop in Orange County. In his absence, “the clinic had faltered,” he says. “I found that most of the people who were coming were coming because of me.”

So he took up the clinic again, but in a smaller office space this time and with fewer patients. He wants more time for himself. Putting on his pants and sweater, he says his birthday is coming in a few days, and he and his wife will be going out to dinner to celebrate. Of course, years ago, before he met his wife, he says he used to celebrate his birthday for a month. “Every day was birthday,” he smiles slyly, running his hands through his salt-and-pepper hair as he slips on green loafers over green socks. Things change, he says. But not everything. He says he can still do wonderful things for anyone who has the time, the will and the money. Reinvent someone's life? Of course. You're looking at the proof.


-Steve Lowery

Into the Breach (Birth)

When I was very young-under the age of 3-I could not recite the alphabet, but I could sing it, a glorious song delivered with great flourish. I didn't learn this charming fact of personal history from a parent or a favorite aunt. I learned it in my late 20s from a veritable stranger while under hypnosis. My mom later confirmed the story-and a whole lot more.

I was first introduced to hypnosis in high school, when a hypnotist came to the school auditorium for an assembly to entertain us. (What were they thinking?) The hypnotist did his spiel and actually had students eating whole onions-all the while thinking they were actually eating delectable, juicy apples. And of course, I have enjoyed my fill of cinematic hypnosis-from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever. And I recall being quite intrigued with an early 1980s Phil Donahue Show in which a guest was “past-life regressed” in front of a studio audience.

My own dalliance with hypnosis came about later when a doctor acquaintance, Dr. Lawrence Skolnik, offered me a free past-life regression. I wasn't sure. I didn't need to lose weight, I wasn't a smoker, I didn't experience anxiety or unexplainable pain-the usual reasons to seek out hypnotherapy. But I opted for folly and found myself in a comfortable recliner as dim lighting and peaceful music set the stage for an attempt at past-life regression in a Century City office. After Skolnik's version of “you're getting sleepy . . .” (a guided meditation and a few moments of focusing on a spinning black-and-white disk), I found myself in a state of being awake yet feeling asleep, something like that moment when you are just about to fall asleep.

A very brief primer: hypnosis is the process of putting to sleep the conscious mind and awakening and visiting the subconscious mind. That's where messages are sent: don't smoke. Don't eat. Don't be afraid. Hypnosis has even been used in surgery; for some women, it's a preferable alternative for pain relief in childbirth. To prove this, the doctor did a mini experiment with me: while under hypnosis, he told me that I would feel absolutely no pain as he dug his fingernail deep into my arm. I didn't feel a thing-yet I had a mark on my arm for days.

But I regress. Once under hypnosis, Skolnik took me back to my high school years and asked me to name kids in my class. I rattled them off. Being in my late 20s, I am not terribly impressed. I believe my memory, once jogged even without the hypnotic trance to aid, could provide the same information. What is a little freaky is this: I felt as though I was actually there, seeing the faces as I did roll call for a class of about 300.

He took me back further, to elementary school, to third grade. Once again, he asked me to name the children in my classroom. If you offered my a million dollars today, I could not name all of the kids in my third-grade class. Yet under hypnosis, I knew them all. No doubt pleased with my performance, Skolnik took me back to age 6. I found myself incredibly sad, and I started weeping uncontrollably. My younger sister was battling cancer when I was 6, and I felt those fearful emotions all over again-this time as a 28-year-old woman. It was creepy. Acutely aware of my discomfort, Skolnik quickly guided me further back, to my preschool days. I readily knew things that seem elusive to me as an adult-street addresses, phone numbers and the like. We went back a year earlier, where I learned the alphabet was nothing but a song to me.

The next leg of the journey to my past took me right to the womb. It felt cozy and warm and sounded like I was inside a tin can. Very muffled. I was very anxious to fly out of there. He had me describe the inside of the delivery room. My mother later confirmed it all-including that I flew out of her like (as she put it) a cannonball.


That's when things got weird. Since all of these exercises of visits to portions of my present life were successful, it was time to travel to another life. He guided me to a “light source,” a bright white light in my mind that is supposedly the window to past lives. It took no time to find the light, and I actually felt as though it was enveloping me. In a calm, soothing voice, Skolnik asked me to visit a time and place that has meaning to me.

It was a strange sensation, fully aware that I was sitting in a recliner chair in a Century City office and then actually believing and feeling that I was on my way to another place and time. Clouds appeared and then cleared, and I found myself in Holland well more than 100 years ago. I felt like I was dreaming-or making up a perfectly grand tale. It seemed real enough as I described the images. English nearly failed me; it was a struggle to communicate. I felt extremely frustrated and confused. I've never been to Holland, yet images of the beautiful countryside seemed clear: with the exception of a lone windmill, my images were devoid of tulips, wooden shoes and ostensible symbols of Holland.

I found myself as an 8-year-old girl with blond hair. While I still heard Skolnik's voice, I wasn't really sure who he was. I felt afraid. As he asked me questions about my life in Holland, I was afraid to answer, afraid he would find out I am smart and that I will be sent away to school like my older brother. So I played dumb. Under hypnosis, I intentionally gave him the wrong answers to simple math problems and intentionally spelled simple words wrong. I was desperate. I wanted to stay home with the rest of my family. In Holland. Listening to Skolnik's recording of the session later that evening, my voice in Holland is the voice of a little girl.

I was anxious to get back to my present life. When I was gently awakened from the hypnotic state, I felt refreshed, as though I had taken a fabulous Sunday-afternoon nap.

I have no belief system about the credibility of past-life regression. But if I could tap into all the information and experiences of this life under hypnosis, why not a previous one? And if I could live a life based on the experiences of several lives, would that not be the best of all possible worlds?

It was a fabulous experience, one I doubt I'll ever forget. And if, perchance, I do, there's a hypnotherapist down the street. . . .

-Judy Jablonski

Smoke Yourself Healthy

I am sitting at the computer, desperately sucking on a Nicotrol brand nicotine-delivery device. Inside the hollow plastic tube is a fibrous cylinder imbedded with 10 milligrams of my precious, beloved drug. I draw so hard on this surrogate cigarette that my cheeks pull together and nearly meet inside my mouth. I feel the wonderful, gritty chemical paint the back of my throat. I feel the comforting, familiar tug at the top of my lungs, and my brain releases an endorphin buzz in relieved appreciation of this mini-fix.

Yet so much is missing. A few tokes on a Nicotrol is a far cry from a soft, sleek, warm, sensual, luscious cigarette. I crave that smoky, nutty, vaguely acidic flavor coating my tongue; I want to see and feel the rich blue fumes escaping my windpipe and sinuses as I exhale; I want to know that consoling tube of tobacco between my fingers once more.

At this very moment, given the choice, I would much rather have a fresh pack of smokes in front of me than a naked and willing Pamela Anderson.

They say that quitting cigarettes is harder than kicking heroin. I'm in no position to judge because I've never been a junkie. But I'm a drug addict, and I can tell you that not smoking for the past week is maybe the most heroic accomplishment of my life.

This has been a week of pure mental and physical agony, of frayed nerves, stinking depression, horrible rashes, sleepless nights, fiery temper tantrums, abject self-pity and bitter tears. I weep for the loss of my best friend, who has been at my side through every triumph and failure in my life.

I was born a nicotine addict. My mother smoked two packs a day when I was in the womb. The first time I tasted a cigarette, way back in grade school, there was no dizzying revulsion or choking fit of coughing. I found it perfectly delightful. By 12, I was a full-fledged smoker. By 15, I was up to two packs a day, where I remained until last week. I have smoked for 28 years. Do the math, and you'll find that equals close to half a million cigarettes my body has endured since before I'd grown a proper pelt of pubes.


I suck on my Nicotrol. I hold it in my lungs as you would a hit of pot, so as not to miss the full benefit of the drug. I take it in from the wrong end of the tube, hoping that maybe the nicotine delivery will be stronger that way. I exhale slowly out my nose because it burns more when exiting the sinuses than the trachea.

Everyone who smokes has the notion of quitting buried in the recesses of his or her mind somewhere. There's a constant sense of shame, of letting yourself and your loved ones down, of being a pathetic weakling, a wretched slave to that evil cylinder of toasted brown weed. You might make half-hearted attempts to shake the habit, but they're inevitably shut down by the ravenous, uncontrollable urges. So you harbor the idea that you will quit someday, sort of as an insurance policy against drowning in your own lung pus at some abstract point in the future. But it can always wait another day.

For me, the day has come. It was almost too perfect that I start to fall apart shortly after my 40th birthday. I was diagnosed with having a heart murmur and a dilated aortic valve. I was ordered by my cardiologist to quit smoking immediately. I didn't, of course. A few months later, I came down with bronchitis. I smoked through the illness, even as I coughed up bloody lung cookies. A couple of weeks ago, I landed in the ER because I couldn't swallow without intense pain in my piping. Gastric reflux and hiatus hernia: cigarettes had burned a hole in the end of my esophagus. Still, even as I lay on that hospital gurney, I was desperate for a nicotine fix. Those horrible, sadistic bastards wouldn't let me go outside to smoke. After 12 hours, I became frantic. I unhooked the EKG electrodes from my chest, grabbed my IV bag off the rack, tucked it inside my jacket and stole outside, tubes hanging from my arm. I chain-smoked three cigarettes and felt a little better and then snuck back to my bed.

When released from the ER later that day, I lay in bed at home suffering excruciating, searing pain. Never mind the Vicodin: each swallow of saliva was accompanied by the sensation of a red-hot icepick being thrust into my chest. I listened as thick, rubbery snot rattled around inside my lungs with every wheezing breath.

That's when I resolved that enough was really enough. This shit was actually going to kill me. I had to quit smoking. Now, not later.

I look at old photographs. A baby-faced kid trying to look tough, leather jacket and cigarette bespeaking nascent cool. A gleeful teenager surrounded by friends, cigarette dangling from my lips. Editor of my college paper, sitting proudly at my desk, cigarette smoldering in the ashtray. Cover of my first album with the Beat Farmers, smiling cockily with a cigarette burning between my fingers. Onstage at the Hammersmith Palais, puffing away with gusto. Cover of a later solo album, cigarette smoke pushing from my face in a dragon-like gust, confirming rock-star virility. Lying in a room at Caesar's Palace on my honeymoon, surrounded by blackjack winnings, a triumphant cigarette a-twitter in my mouth.

I remember smoking a cigarette in the dark after the first time I got laid. I remember how great cigarettes tasted under the sway of LSD at the historic Watkins Glen rock festival. I remember being comforted by cigarettes as I wept at my father's funeral. I remember the sweet ritual of smoking in a barroom over heady conversation with my pal Young John Skalman.

It's been a lifetime of cigarettes.

Writing this makes me want to smoke. I always smoke when I write. I smoke when I get on the phone. I smoke when I get in my car. I smoke when I watch TV. I smoke when I listen to music. I smoke after each meal. I smoke after sex. I smoke when I play guitar. I smoke incessantly when I drink. I smoke when I get up to take a piss in the middle of the night. I smoke three cigarettes each morning as soon as I get out of bed to fuel diminished nicotine levels. I don't brush my teeth until I'm done smoking because it makes my cigarettes taste like shit. Smoking has made me a real appealing fellow.

The Nicotrol is running out. I suck until my eyeballs bulge like moist cue balls, but I don't get a hit. This will not do. I must place a fresh cylinder in the tube to be able to complete this story.


A doctor once told me he kicked smoking successfully by thinking of cigarettes as women. “You see all these beautiful girls on the street every day, and you want to have sex with them so badly, but you can't,” he related. “Think of cigarettes like that: you just can't have them, no matter how badly you want them.”

I've tried to quit smoking many times before and failed. In the back of my mind, I wanted to fail so I could smoke again. This time, I must succeed. If I smoke, I'll die. It's that simple. My body has spoken.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine ran into a mutual acquaintance named Chris we hadn't seen in years. Chris expressed surprise when told I was still around and still smoking. “The way that guy smoked, I didn't figure he'd live to see 40,” Chris told my friend.

I want to live to see the dawning of a new century. I want to live to see the Republicans lose both houses in 2000. I want to grow old and senile and drooly with my wife. I want to have a kid and kick the shit out of it when I catch it smoking. I want to outlive my mother, who is 74 and still smokes two packs a day even though she has emphysema. I have stories to write, music to make, sex to have, food and booze to consume, places to see, books to read, movies to watch, adventures to experience.

If I make it to 80, my life is now only half over; if I continue to smoke, it's almost a certainty I won't make it to 45. I know this is true because that's what my body is telling me.

I draw hard on the Nicotrol. [suck] No matter how tough this is [suck], I am not ready to die. [suck] I shall abide and endure. [suck]

-Buddy Seigal

Fretty: A Life

Born an accident, almost blind, to a tyrannical father and a cowardly mother, with enough baby fat to carry him into adulthood and then morph into mortal obesity, for 39 years, he has searched for his soul among healers and health harangues, my friend and anomaly, Fretty, whose self-esteem until recently was kept in a tin thimble on an island for misfit boys.

“My childhood was certainly not a happy one,” he says. “My father was totally overbearing, and I learned at a very young age not to speak unless spoken to . . . or I might be hit with anything handy.”

I have heard many stories by now about how the Old Man would ring Fretty's bell with extreme prejudice, like for cutting his meat the wrong way at supper. “I spent a good portion of my childhood on restriction in my bedroom,” he says as we sit talking in his condo.

I watch his eyes involuntarily Ping-Pong back and forth, always in motion, as he sits limber and cross-legged on the floor-which I always find quietly remarkable given his bursting rumen and girth. My Buddha buddy.

He graduated from high school a year early because he hated the malignant attention his disability earned him. He learned to buck up against fat jokes early on, but his whacked-out eyes were a long-lived and deeper source of peer persecution. “One day, school was just letting out, and I was standing by the band-room door. And some guy comes up to me and gets right in my face, looks at my eyes and says, 'Man, you're fryin' [stoned].' He said that because my eyes were moving back and forth the way they do,” Fretty says, remembering one of many incidents. So he got good grades, earned extra course credits, and got the hell out.

He lumbered through life until an overweight acquaintance he had not seen for about a year turned up at his doorstep for a visit “and I didn't recognize him . . . he was as skinny as you are, and I said, 'What happened?!!'”

Enter the Fat Doctor, “like a country doctor, probably 75 years old, working out of a tiny office in a house,” Fretty recalls. The doctor's theory, according to Fretty, was that women secrete a hormone that keeps them from gaining too much weight during pregnancy. This hormone was captured from their urine and made available in injection form. “He gave me a two-week supply of Fen-Phen and gave me an injection, and then I'd go back every two weeks for another injection. He'd weigh me . . . and he'd dispense the Fen-Phen right out of his office,” Fretty recounted. In five months, he lost 70 pounds.


In that time, Fretty had managed to cut chocolate out of his diet. But he began having dreams about chocolate. “I've heard that chocolate has seven complex chemicals in it that, when ingested, give you the feeling of being loved,” he said. In a year's time, he gained back all the weight.

Around the time of the Gulf War, the American economy took a turn for the worse, and Fretty's consulting business took a dive. He lost his house, roomed with different friends, and gained weight. With no money and lots of depression, he volunteered for a drug-trial clinic, becoming a guinea pig for anti-depressants.

During initial testing for the program, it was discovered that Fretty suffers from severe sleep apnea, and he was booted from further drug trials.

More time. Business picks up. Fretty signs with FHP, is prescribed anti-depressants and referred to a psychologist. The psychologist makes significant progress with Fretty-until he falls in love with her, “I couldn't concentrate on what we were trying to do anymore,” he says. “My mind would be scheming constantly about how I was going to win her over.”

He went to three more psychologists but made no progress-except for the discovery that the anti-depressants could help. “I'm on two anti-depressants right now . . . and I still have days when I want to stay in bed and sleep, but for the most part, I feel like getting up in the morning now,” he says.

Fretty continues his quest for mental and physical well-being, and he is shameless about where and how he seeks it. I've witnessed a Peruvian shaman try to heal Fretty's eyesight using a silver atomizer, a rattle, and some kind of yellow liquid that he spit-sprayed over Fretty's body. It was hard to watch because I knew Fretty had real hope of relief. The one-hour session relieved him only of his dignity and $100.

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