Dead Pool 19th March 2023

This week sees the shocking death of Lance Reddick at too young an age, I really should keep those Flying Monkeys caged up… 

Look Who You Could Have Had:

In Other News

Sam Neill has revealed he has had “a ferocious type of aggressive” non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Jurassic Park star, 75, was diagnosed with Stage three cancer in March 2022 and thought: “I’m crook, I’m dying.” Unable to work, he started writing as a distraction and to “give me a reason to get through the day,” he told the Flying Monkeys. In his new memoir, Did I Ever Tell you This?, he discusses his illness and his near 50-year career on screen. Neill first noticed he had lumpy glands in his neck on a publicity tour for Jurassic World: Dominion last year. When doctors told him what was wrong, he said his reaction was “pretty phlegmatic”, but it made him “take stock of things.” “I thought I need to do something, and I thought, ‘Shall I start writing?'” he says. “I didn’t think I had a book in me, I just thought I’d write some stories. And I found it increasingly engrossing. A year later, not only have I written the book – I didn’t have a ghost writer – but it’s come out in record time. I suspect my publishers, they’re delightful people, but I think they wanted to get it out in a hurry just in case I kicked the bucket before it was time to release the thing.” Indeed at one point he thinks the subtitle for the book might have been Notes from a Dying Man. There are, he says, “dark days.” He lost his hair after the first round of chemotherapy and writes in the memoir that when he looks in the mirror, “there’s a bald, wizened old man there.” “More than anything I want my beard back. I don’t like the look of my face one bit.” Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a less common cancer that develops in the lymphatic system – the vast network of vessels and glands in the body. But the star is now in remission and remains positive. “I’m not afraid of dying,” he says. “What I don’t want to do is to stop living, because I really enjoy living.” He continues: “I’ve regarded it as an adventure, quite a dark adventure, but an adventure nevertheless. And the good days are just fantastic and when you get some good news it’s absolutely exhilarating.” The book, he is at pains to stress, is not about cancer. “I can’t stand cancer books.” Instead it is mostly about what he calls his “fun” and “unlikely” life and long career.  

Nicholas Lloyd Webber, the eldest son of Andrew Lloyd Webber, is critically ill with gastric cancer, the Phantom of the Opera composer has announced. Nicholas’ hospitalisation will necessitate Sir Andrew’s absence from this week’s Broadway opening of the composer’s Bad Cinderella. “I am absolutely devastated to say that my eldest son Nick is critically ill,” Andrew Lloyd Webber said in a statement released tonight. “As my friends and family know, he has been fighting gastric cancer for the last 18 months and Nick is now hospitalised.” The composer went on to say, “I therefore have not been able to attend the recent previews of Bad Cinderella and as things stand, I will not be able to cheer on its wonderful cast, crew and orchestra on Opening Night this Thursday. “We are all praying that Nick will turn the corner,” he continued. “He is bravely fighting with his indomitable humour, but at the moment my place is with him and the family.” Andrew Lloyd Webber had also been scheduled to attend a Bad Cinderella New York press event this Wednesday, coinciding with the composer’s 75th birthday. Bad Cinderella opens Thursday, March 23rd, at the Imperial Theatre. The 43-year-old Nicholas is a Grammy nominated composer and record producer, known for scoring the BBC 1 drama Love, Lies and Records and the 2021 film The Last Bus, among other projects. He co-produced and mixed the 2021 original London cast album Bad Cinderella. 

Jim Gordon, the drummer who played on the Beach Boys’ iconic album Pet Sounds and for Eric Clapton in Derek & The Dominos, has died in prison aged 77. The session musician was serving a life sentence when he died of natural causes on Monday. Gordon was convicted of killing his mother in 1983 before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. The musician is credited as a songwriter on Derek & The Dominos’ hit song “Layla”, alongside Eric Clapton. As a session musician, Gordon featured on tracks by numerous artists. His music can be heard on songs by Tom Waits, George Harrison, John Lennon, Cher and more. He also played music on the classic track “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. Gordon died in a state-run medical facility in California, while still serving his 16 year sentence. During his life, he struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs, according to Rolling Stone, who interviewed him in 1985. His mother urged him to seek psychiatric help in the Seventies, and he was admitted to hospital, telling the staff there that she was his only friend. He went on to murder her in 1983 with a hammer and knife. He told Rolling Stone two years later that he “had no interest in killing his mother.” “I wanted to stay away from her. I had no choice. It was so matter-of-fact, like I was being guided like a zombie. She wanted me to kill her, and good riddance to her,” he said at the time. He was sentenced in 1984 where the judge ruled that his insanity would not find him innocent under laws in place at the time. 

On This Day

  • 1649 – The House of Commons of England passes an act abolishing the House of Lords, declaring it “useless and dangerous to the people of England”. 
  • 1831 – First documented bank heist in U.S. history, when burglars stole $245,000 from the City Bank  on Wall Street. Most of the money was recovered.  
  • 1895 – Auguste and Louis Lumière record their first footage using their newly patented cinematograph.  
  • 1982 – Falklands War: Argentinian forces land on South Georgia Island, precipitating war with the United Kingdom. 


The Smoked Corpses of Aseki

The Anga people live in Papua New Guinea’s Aseki District, a fringe highland region so detached from the modern world that even the regular passing of mist is still considered an omen from the spirits. They’re also heirs to one of most bizarre rituals of the ancient world: the smoking of their ancestors’ corpses.

An extraordinary – and from an outsider’s point-of-view, grotesque – form of enshrinement, the smoked corpses of Aseki have captured the imagination of anthropologists, writers and filmmakers for more than 100 years. But few have been able to tell fact from fiction. 

To find out when the practice began – and why the Anga began mummifying their dead in a land where cannibalism used to be the norm – The Flying Monkeys travelled to Lae, the second largest city in Papua New Guinea. There they met up with Malcolm Gauthier, a guide with off-road motorbike company Niugini Dirt.

The journey took two days, with an overnight stopover at the former 1930s gold rush town of Bulolo. The further inland we rode, the worse the road got: a bone-jarring juxtaposition of washouts, muddy ruts and river crossings, some of which required dugout canoes to navigate.

When we reached Angapenga, a large village some 250km southwest of Lae, a group of children directed us to a strip of grass overlooking a saw-toothed valley. It’s one of dozens of sites in the Aseki District where smoked corpses can be found, though the exact location of most have been forgotten over time. The mummies of Angapenga are also the most accessible, located a short hike from the road. 

After we parked, we were approached by a man named Dickson, who said he was custodian of the site. Speaking in Tok Pisin – a colourful creole of German, English and indigenous Melanesian dialects – he demanded a princely access fee. Gauthier bargained him down to a figure both parties could live with, and we set off with dozens of children in tow on the final stage of our journey: a laborious half-hour climb through jungle riddled with stinging nettles and spider webs. The track was so steep and overgrown in parts that we found ourselves crawling on all fours. It then disappeared under the canopy and rounded a ridge where a clay wall rose steeply into the air. There, under a small indentation on the cliff, were the smoked corpses of Aseki. 

The mummies were more macabre than anything that can be imagined. Smeared with red clay, they were in various stages of decomposition, with parched sections of skin and muscle clinging to their skeletons. Some still had clumps of hair and full sets of nails curled in pensive positions. Their facial expressions were cut straight out of a Hollywood scream-fest, with full rows of teeth and eyeballs popping out of their skulls. One of the corpses, a female, had the smoked body of an infant pressed against her chest. 

There were 14 corpses in total, arranged on bamboo scaffolding in life-like positions or curled up like foetuses inside large baskets. Four of the corpses had disintegrated into piles of bones, their skulls peeking out through broken bits of bamboo amid the dirt.

Getting close to the mummies proved to be difficult. There was no flat ground to stand on and even the Flying Monkeys repeatedly lost their footing. When Gauthier came close to where the bodies lay, he slipped and grabbed hold of the scaffolding, nearly pulling the entire shrine into the jungle below. 

We know from a National Geographic documentary filmed at Koke, another village in Aseki, that the mummies are infrequently carried to villages for restorative work. In fact, Gauthier said he’d seen these mummies on display at the Morobe Show in Lae a decade ago. But I was dumbstruck at the idea of these delicate and priceless artefacts being put in the back of a flatbed truck and driven over 250km of broken roads. Even just sitting here, they were at risk of damage by clumsy tourists, tomb raiders and the elements. One big storm or landslide and they could easily wash away. 

Most of what’s known about the mummies is based on hearsay, exaggeration or flights of the imagination. Even the locals we spoke to – Dickson, a pastor named Loland and a schoolteacher named Nimas – seemed to offer different stories about the ritual’s past.

The first documented report on the smoked corpses was by British explorer Charles Higginson in 1907 – seven years prior to the start of WWI. Yet according to Dickson, the mummifying practice began during WWI, when the Anga attacked the first group of missionaries to arrive in Aseki. His great-grandfather, one of the corpses we saw under the cliff, was shot dead by the missionaries in self-defence. 

Dickson said the event sparked a series of payback killings that came to an end when the missionaries gifted the natives salt, with which they began embalming their dead. The practice only lasted for a generation, he added, since a second round of missionaries successfully converted the Anga to Christianity.

Loland and Nimas confirmed that the smoke corpse ritual ended in 1949, when missionaries took firm root in Aseki. But unlike Dickson, Loland and Nimas said mummification had been practiced by the Anga for centuries. The bodies were not cured using salt, they explained, but smoked over months in a “spirit haus”. They were then covered in red clay to maintain their structural integrity and placed in shrines in the jungle. 

Nimas also said that cannibalism was never practiced in this part of Papua New Guinea – a statement that contradicts Higginson’s 1907 description of the Anga as bloodthirsty savages who greedily lapped up the entrails of their own kin during the smoking process. But if that was the case, of course, then why didn’t the Anga didn’t make a meal of Higginson, a lone and defenceless foreigner living in their midst? 

Before departing, we asked Dickson one more question: was it true that embalmers drained the corpses’ body fat and used it as cooking oil during the embalming process, as is claimed by Higginson and nearly every report written on the mummies in the century that has elapsed?

Dickson’s face showed instant incredulity. “Tok giaman blo wait man (white man’s lie),” he replied. Some secrets, perhaps, are best kept with the dead.

Last Week’s Birthdays

Bruce Willis (68), Glenn Close (76), Ursula Andress (87), Harvey Weinstein (71), Brad Dourif (73), Luc Besson (64), Queen Latifah (53), Abigail Cowen (25), Kurt Russell (72), Rob Lowe (59), Morfydd Clark (34), John Boyega (31), Gary Sinise (68), Lesley-Anne Down (69), Patrick Duffy (74), Alexandra Daddario (37), Alan Tudyk (52), Jerome Flynn (60), Caitlin Bassett (33), Victor Garber (74), Aisling Bea (39), Erik Estrada (74), Jimmy Nail (69), David Cronenberg (80), Judd Hirsch (88), Eva Longoria (48), Corey Stoll (47), Michael Caine (90), Jamie Bell (37), Billy Crystal (75), Betsy Brandt (50), Quincy Jones (90), Harry Melling (34), Annabeth Gish (52), William H. Macy (73), and Danny Masterson (47).

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