This is a heart-wrenching story, and one we’re not sure we really wanted to cover today. But it’s part of history, and it’s really happened, and I think we have an obligation to do so.
This post does discuss physician-assisted suicide, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation; please be aware of this before continuing.
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Mark Fleischman, former owner of legendary New York City disco Studio 54, has gone through with his plan to end his life via physician-assisted suicide in Switzerland, BBC news has reported.
Fleischman’s former business partner, Danny Fitzgerald, wrote on Facebook that Fleischman’s wife Mimi has informed him that “Mark passed bravely and peacefully this morning.”
The 82 year old Fleischman had previously gone public with his intention in late June after revealing that his quality of life had declined and health ailments left him in a state of constant pain.
“I can’t walk, my speech is fucked up and I can’t do anything for myself,” Fleischman, now 82 years old, told The New York Post. “My wife helps me get into bed and I can’t dress or put on my shoes. I am taking a gentle way out. It is the easiest way out for me.”
Fitzgerald, with whom Fleischman owned the Century Club in Los Angeles, held a living wake for Fleischman a week ago, the BBC reported.
Fleischman ended his life today at the Dignitas clinic near Zurich, as he had previously discussed.
Mark Fleischman was not the original owner of Studio 54 but was a key part of the club’s history. He bought the Virgin Island Hilton hotel in St. Thomas in the 1970s and opened a Studio 54 nightclub there, licensed from the club in New York.
In November 1980, Fleischman purchased the original New York club “on visiting days in prison” with the jailed owners, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who were sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for tax evasion. Fleischman ran the club for several years but found himself “getting deeper into drugs,” according to his biography. He sold Studio 54 to new owners in 1984 and it closed down two years later.
In an excerpt from his autobiography, Fleischman described visiting Rubell and Schrager at a Federal Prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama:
“During that visit, Steve seemed anxious but he told me about prison life, ‘It was very uncomfortable in the beginning, but I’m getting used to it now.’ He also bragged, ‘I talk to Calvin, Halston, and Claudia all the time.’ As editor of The New York Post’s Page Six section, Claudia Cohen helped to put Studio 54 on the map. I guess this was Steve’s way of assuring me that everyone was still his friend and I could count on them returning to Studio when I got my license to open. Ian was also encouraging and more upbeat than when he was in the Manhattan prison. From what I remember, many of the other prisoners were crooked Southern politicians who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Steve and Ian had each other for moral support and they managed to get decent work detail, mostly gardening jobs. I recall Ian saying that Steve was like the mayor of the prison, everyone loved him and they got great treatment because of it.”
The lifestyle of the scene in the ’80s took its toll, with Fleischman describing taking valium to sleep, a few lines of coke to wake up and drinks throughout the day to “level off the speediness.” He described something of an awakening after Paul Jabara (writer, with former David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer, of the The Weather Girls’ disco bomb “It’s Raining Men“) recommended the out-of-control impresario visit Rancho La Puerta, an “organic fitness center” in California near the Mexican border.
“At the peak of Mt. Kuchumaa, a new spiritual reality came over me,” Fleischman would later write. “I had experienced a similar sensation years earlier, when I visited the ancient Sun and Moon Aztec pyramids in Teotihuacán, outside of Mexico City. Something came over me there and I felt close to God, but that was during my hallucinogenic drug days. This time I was straight.”
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Fleischman told The New York Post his health problems lead him to attempt suicide on his own before deciding to travel to Switzerland where he would end his life with the assistance of Dignitas, a non-profit group.
The New York Post and multiple media outlets that have reported on this story have stated that assisted suicide is illegal in California, where Fleischman lived. This is not true. California enacted the “End Of Life Option Act” in 2016 which, after a legal challenge, was reinstated in 2018 and affirmed by the California State Supreme Court. The law, however, has a stringent criteria for eligibility which it appears might not have applied in Fleischman’s case. The law requires a diagnosis from the patient’s primary care physician, including that the illness will result in death within six months. Fleischman and his wife, Mimi, told The Post that doctors have been unable to diagnose his illness. “Doctors originally thought he had a form of Parkinson’s,” she said. “But it is not that. Nobody knows what he has.”
Fleischman’s memoir, Inside Studio 54 was published in 2017 and charted the intersection of the club with his out-of-control life involving mafia hoods, drugs and “destructive relationships.”
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or by calling 1-800-273-8255.