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The Superfreak in All of Us

By Kent Lewis

I've lived in the lovely state of Oregon for over 10 years, but I only recently made the journey to McMinnville's Evergreen Aviation Museum to see Howard Hughes' H-4 Spruce Goose. It's difficult to understand the immense scope of the gigantic flying boat, even when compared to the WWII airplanes sheltered under its wings (the Spruce Goose's tailspan is wider than that of a B-17 bomber's wingspan). After walking through the wooden wonder and recalling Scorsese's The Aviator, I was struck by how truly amazing, and freaky, Howard Hughes really was.

Born in Texas in 1905 to a successful businessman, Howard Robard Hughes had early aspirations to be the world's best golfer, pilot and movie producer. He'd achieved most of his lifelong goals by the time he was in his mid 20s. It helped that he inherited $17 million when his parents died. He leveraged his father's company, Hughes Tool Company, to fund various projects, including big budget movies and high-performance aircraft. He was a notorious ladies' man and America's first billionaire.

What I find most interesting about the reclusive Renaissance man, however, is not his fame, but his debilitating medical condition. While in his 40s, Hughes developed symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which manifested in a variety of forms: an obsession with the size of peas on his plate, a mortal fear of germs and storing his own urine in jars. Toward the end of his life, he moved frequently from penthouse to penthouse and died a frail, unrecognizable skeleton of a man at the age of 70.

While Scorsese wanted to immortalize the glory years of Hughes' life, it was difficult not to address his tormented nature. After thinking about other talented individuals throughout history, I'm left to believe that there is a yin to every yang. Consider Vincent Van Gogh: brilliant artist, yet always willing to lend an ear to a loved one. Kurt Cobain: brilliant musician, but preferred not to bathe, colored his hair with Kool Aid and treated a long-time stomach ailment with a dose of heroin and buckshot. How about Neil Goldschmidt, the nation's youngest mayor, famous for revitalizing downtown Portland and having a lengthy sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Let's not forget Michael Jackson: child prodigy and pedophile.

If I were to make a choice between absolute brilliance with a dash of insanity and bad judgment or mediocrity with a hint of obscurity, I'll settle for the latter. Better to have had a lifetime of quiet contentment than one of fame followed by a legacy of ill repute . Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to have 15 minutes in the limelight followed by a proportionate amount of shame. Just look at Wendy's new spokeswoman, Anna Ayala, the woman facing criminal charges for claiming she found a human finger in her chili. On second thought, I'll have the burger.



The Superfreak in All of Us
by Kent Lewis


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