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George Caragonne

Anonyme letter from the net:

Years ago, I had a friend named George Caragonne. So did a lot of people.

George was a big guy — he made me look anorexic — with incredible energy and passion. The phrase "nothing in moderation" was not inapplicable. If he liked you, and he liked most people, there was nothing he wouldn't do for you. In fact, George's friendship could be embarrassing because it was so in-your-face enthusiastic. The flip side of that was, of course, that when he hated, he hated hard.

George wanted nothing more in the world than to be important in the comic book industry and, for a brief shining moment, he sort of made it. But before that moment, he struggled. He wrote a few things for Marvel, like Masters of the Universe and Thundercats. He did some animation work for the G.I. Joe series and a couple others. He tried and failed in a few different ways to launch his own publishing company...

And then something clicked.

Maybe it was dumb luck. Maybe it was skill and strategy. Somehow, George managed to interest the people who published Penthouse Magazine in a line of adult comic books produced on a handsome budget. Suddenly, he could put some of his ideas — and he had a lot of them — into print. Suddenly, he had a staff and an office and an expense account, and he could hire his friends, as well as artists and writers he'd long admired. They put out Penthouse Comics, Penthouse Men's Adventure Comix and Omni Comix.

At the time they were published, I wasn't sure what to make of them. And I haven't been able to look back at them since because they remind me of George.

Some people and some successes have a way of destroying each other. Once a man who'd refused to smoke, drink, use drugs or engage in premarital sex, he was suddenly doing all of those and in excess...especially the drugs. George had a "friend" (notice the quotes) who could get cocaine. They were both heavy users and they had an arrangement: The "friend" got the coke for both of them and George paid for it. George also began spending money foolishly and not in small amounts. He loved buying guns and expensive toys. He showered friends with extravagant gifts. He went wildly overbudget on his magazines and on some new, non-Penthouse projects.

More and more, everything in his life inverted, even his waking hours. He'd work all night in the Penthouse offices, then go home and crash during the day.

Friends tried to rein him in but it was like trying to recall a surface-to-air missile. When you told him he was out of control, it made him frantic and he'd veer even more wildly off-course. And then there were the money problems. As big as his salary was, it wasn't big enough for the way he was living. There were rumors of financial improprieties...of George "borrowing" from his employers without their knowledge or consent. One night, he arrived at work and discovered he'd been locked out pending a full audit on his books. That was on a Friday, I recall.

Saturday night and Sunday, a number of us spent time on the phone with him, urging him to get professional treatment. There was no reasoning with the guy. I spent hours. Everyone spent hours but to no good result.

George Caragonne disappeared for a few days. Then, the following Thursday, he took himself to the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York. He went up to a bellhop and asked, "Is it true this is the tallest hotel in Times Square?" The bellhop said it was. George then took an elevator to the top floor where an indoor atrium provides a stunning view of the lobby, 45 stories below. He put on a Walkman containing a cassette of his favorite music — themes from James Bond films. We'll never know just which theme was playing when he jumped.

That was ten years ago today.

On the way down, his 400+ pound body caromed off ledges and decorations, then it landed in a buffet spread. Miraculously, no one else was killed but many people, including some children, suffered severe emotional traumas and required years of treatment, all because of what they witnessed. I believe human beings have a right to do away with themselves, but not when they're insane and certainly not the way George did it.

For years after, my sadness at what became of my pal George was drowned out by anger at what he did to total strangers and even to his close associates. One of his co-workers — the one George wanted to blame for the missing money — had to go identify the body. Years later, that associate also took his own life, though in a quieter, neater manner.

I still miss the old George Caragonne...or, at least, I'd like to. But even today, one full decade after, the memory of what he became is still making that difficult.

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