Studio 54 club owner Mark Fleischman chooses euthanasia

‘I can’t walk, my speech is fucked up, and I can’t do anything for myself… my wife helps me get into bed and I can’t dress or put on my shoes,’ said the man who once owned the most famous nightspot in New York City

Mark Fleischman and his wife, Mimi, in New York, 2017.
Mark Fleischman and his wife, Mimi, in New York, 2017.Sylvain Gaboury (Getty Images)

In the early 1980s, New York impresario Mark Fleischman took the keys to a legendary but fading nightclub, and breathed new life into Studio 54. He brought in rising stars Madonna, Duran Duran, and Culture Club to perform for regular patrons and celebrities like Boy George, Janet Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Lionel Richie, Jean-Michel Basquiat, LaToya Jackson, and Cyndi Lauper. For five years, until it closed for good in 1986, Studio 54 once again sparkled under the disco ball where legends like Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote, and Andy Warhol had danced.

Now 82, Fleischman told the New York Post that he intends to die in Switzerland on July 13 by means of assisted suicide attended by the Dignitas organization. He said, “I can’t walk, my speech is fucked up, and I can’t do anything for myself… my wife helps me get into bed and I can’t dress or put on my shoes.”

Fleischman began developing mobility problems in 2016, when his left leg began dragging. Neurologists initially diagnosed his condition as Parkinson’s disease, but they still have not settled on the exact diagnosis. “It took some time to arrive at this decision,” said Fleischman. “Two years ago, I decided that it wasn’t worth living. I took a lot of Xanax and ended up in the hospital.” ER doctors brought him back from the brink of death, but, soon after, “I read a book about ending life. I read in there that the easiest way is to suffocate. But I did not want the pain. I was going to buy a gun. But my wife interceded. We started looking into a place where it would be legal to find someone to do it with.”

From left to right, actress Raquel Welch, businessman Steve Rubell, and Mark Fleischman at Studio 54 in 1981.
From left to right, actress Raquel Welch, businessman Steve Rubell, and Mark Fleischman at Studio 54 in 1981.REP/IMAGES (Getty Images)

Dignitas is an organization specializing in assisted suicide that was founded in Switzerland in 1998. Its motto is, “To live with dignity – To die with dignity.” In the case of Fleischman, members of the organization reviewed his medical records and had a series of conversations with him. “They want to be certain that I am making the decision for myself,” he said. “After reading my material, they asked me some questions to make sure I was serious. I had to provide a notarized affidavit, stating that I want to die. I had to go to a psychiatrist, and he confirmed that I am of sound mind. I provided all that and they said they want me over there.”

Fleischman was able to revitalize Studio 54 because he was in the right place at the right time. Birth control pills were widely available, and the AIDS epidemic had not yet broken out. Its famous patrons gave Studio 54 elegance and status, but the dance floor was very democratic. Celebrities rubbed shoulders with nobodies, gays and straights danced under the same lights, and drugs were everywhere. VIPs looking for a private place to do drugs crammed into Fleischman’s office, where a young woman prepared lines of cocaine for the partiers. “There were so many people around my desk that we needed 30 or 40 lines of cocaine, and they all had to be identical. That girl was in charge of cutting cocaine lines and serving champagne,” he said. In his 2017 memoir, Fleischman wrote, “I gave it all my heart, entertaining the world’s biggest stars with champagne and cocaine.”

At the request of his wife and after closing Studio 54, Fleischman tried and failed to rehab at the Betty Ford Center. “In the end, I detoxed at Rancho La Puerta,” he told Paper Magazine in 2017. “I was on top of this mountain – it’s considered a magical mountain – shamans had been going there for thousands of years. Somehow, I was able to get high on that feeling of being healthy and fit enough to climb that mountain.” Fleischman returned to Rancho La Puerta more than 55 times–every time he needed to feel a natural high again. “It’s cheaper and better than drugs,” he said, “and it allowed me to live longer.”

On July 8, Fleischman and his wife, Mimi, will take a first class flight to Zurich. They will stay in a villa overlooking a lake and perhaps do some sightseeing around town. “Then, on Wednesday, we’ll go the Dignitas apartment. I’ll have a drink, go to sleep, and that’s it.” His wife will be at his bedside.

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