Want to live forever? You’re in weird company. Here are 10 immortalists acting out their fear of death in very peculiar ways.
10. David Murdock
Ever since losing his third wife and two of their three sons, David Murdock, the billionaire former chairman of Dole, has been obsessed with extending human life. At 100 years old, he’s getting impatient. He regularly complains to scientists at the longevity-focused North Carolina Research Campus, which he paid $500 million to build, that progress is far too slow. But he fills the time telling relative youngsters they’re likely to die before he does. In 2006, for instance, he told the demolition contractor he hired to clear the site for the campus that “you’re probably going to die before this job’s done, because you’re so fat and unhealthy,” adding that his family would have to pay for a plus-size coffin. He’s even collecting blood from people living nearby—50,000 of them—to monitor their health over decades.
At the heart of Murdock’s efforts (and those of his hand-picked scientists) is a diet of fresh fruit and veg. A typical lunch might be a six-fruit smoothie, a green salad with nuts, a soup of more than eight vegetables and beans, and a tiny sliver of grilled fish with plenty of carrots, broccoli, and wholegrain rice. He avoids meat and dairy, as well as sugar, salt, and alcohol. He also limits his exposure to sunlight. He wants the vitamin D, but not the skin cancer. He once had precancerous growths removed from his face without anesthetics because he avoids pharmaceuticals too.
One recent interviewer (who Murdock told off for leaving a bit of their juice, telling them “You’ll go before me”) observed that he seemed a bit lost—and no amount of time or wellness would ever restore his contentment. Tellingly, although a churchgoing Christian, he doesn’t have much faith in Heaven. “People think God’s going to be standing at the gate ready to shake hands with everybody who’s coming through?” he asked his interviewer incredulously; death could just be a void.
9. David Sinclair
Geneticist and life extension researcher David Sinclair fasts for 16 hours a day and, when he does eat, limits his intake to 1,000 calories—and only plant-based foods. He doesn’t eat breakfast. According to him, three meals a day plus snacks “puts the body in a state of abundance, which turns off our longevity genes.” He started “working on” his age in his 30s by avoiding sugar and taking resveratrol but says it’s better to start fasting in your 20s—just not to the point of starvation. 16-18 hours a day is about right, he says: “a very late lunch or large dinner”.
Although Sinclair knows the importance of a good eight hours sleep each night, he only manages six. But he does have a bed that adjusts his body temperature in the night to ensure the deepest of sleeps: “it lowers your body temperature and then warms you back up toward the morning,” he says. It also monitors his heart rate.
One day, he hopes his company Tally Health—which provides personalized longevity tips—will “evolve into a personal assistant for wellness.” Specifically, Sinclair hopes to develop a device to tell us exactly what to order from the menu at restaurants, and whether to skip dessert.
8. Dave Asprey
Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey was, as a hacker in his twenties, in pretty bad shape. He weighed 300 pounds and felt ill all the time. Even after losing loads of weight, though, he adds a knob of butter to his coffee. As far as he’s concerned, coffee is a superfood and butter makes it better. Aged almost 50, he hopes to live at least another century and a third.
Every day he gets up at 7, expresses gratitude to no-one in particular, makes coffee for his wife and kids, and swallows a “handful of supplements”—“like 40 or 50 pills”, down from 150. These include mitochondrial stimulators, peptides, and other anti-aging treatments, some of which he developed himself. He also takes probiotics and minerals, then drops his kids off at school. When he gets home, he spends 45 minutes on “some sort of biohacking”: red light therapy, neurofeedback, squats on a vibrating platform, or a resistance band workout with blood flow restriction. Then it’s off to work.
To help him keep his blood sugar stable, Asprey wears a continuous glucose monitor from a company he invests in.
7. Ray Kurzweil
Arch-transhumanist and AI nut Ray Kurzweil thinks humans will be immortal by 2029—or at least he did think that, in 2016; the trouble for hack futurists like Kurzweil is the future eventually catches up with them. In any case, immortality will be dependent on diet (he means money). Every day, Kurzweil supplements a healthy breakfast of dark, espresso-infused chocolate, vanilla soy milk, smoked fish, porridge, berries, and green tea with “thousands of dollars worth of diet pills”. As Business Insider points out, that’s roughly $1 million a year. It used to be more. In 2016, he was on 100 supplements a day—down from 250 a few years before.
Oddly, Kurzweil eats sugar. There’s plenty of it in his breakfast alone: 7 grams each in the soy milk and chocolate, not to mention the fructose in the berries. He also takes stevia—the safety of which is unknown. But playing fast and loose with his body like this may have something to do with his faith in a cyborg future. He’s among the experts affiliated with Dmitry Itskov’s 2045 Initiative. So, like others on this list, the 75-year-old only wants to keep himself alive to benefit from the next big innovation.
He seems to be well on his way. In 2015, aged 67 in Earth years, he claimed his “biological age” was more like late-40s.
6. Dmitry Itskov
Russian media billionaire Dmitry Itskov isn’t banking on biological immortality. His transhumanist 2045 Initiative, supported by Ray Kurzweil, seeks instead to transfer human souls to inorganic avatars. In 2013, he told the Huffington Post that he was “100 percent certain” that humans will become immortal by 2045; he said he learned from “an ancient text” that “whatever we intend to achieve, we will achieve.” With only 22 years left, however, he’s still not sure how to do it.
His claims remain bold, though. He envisages, for instance, a cyberpunk future of robotic “body service shops” where post-human customers can choose bodies from a catalog—one better suited to life on Mars, say, or one that can fly over Earth. As for human pleasures like food, sex, and children, Itskov sees them as trivial; 80 years is enough for all that stuff, he argues: “Why don’t you start living for a greater purpose?” (like flying around Mars as a robot or, as he imagines his own future, “sitting somewhere up in the mountains, just meditating.”
So if traditional longevity is not a concern, how is he preparing for the future? Several hours a day of yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation, he says. The health of his “consciousness” (which, again, given his concept of it, he might as well call a ‘soul’) is paramount. Hence he avoids meat, not for his bodily health, but because the energy he gets from it makes him uncomfortable. He also avoids alcohol, because it stops him feeling the “real nature” of consciousness, and ice water because it lowers energy.
5. Jack Dorsey
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s approach to life extension largely centers on fasting. He eats one meal a day and nothing at weekends. This, he says, makes his days feel much longer—which is great for productivity. But some have criticised him for normalizing eating disorders. For some it’s an excuse to binge on junk, since when you’re fasting most of the time you don’t have to count calories or carbs. When Dorsey eats, though, he keeps it quite simple: fish, chicken, or steak with some vegetables. Still, if not done properly, it can lead to dehydration.
Dorsey’s also experimented with the paleo diet, meditating, and working standing up by infrared light. He seems to try every new biohack fad, hence the New York Times calling him “the Gwyneth Paltrow of Silicon Valley”. He swears by Himalayan salt and drinks a “salt juice” every morning—a mixture of water, lemon juice, and the faddish pink salt. In fact, he was so energized by the drink that he made it available to all his employees at Twitter. Unless you’re starving yourself, though, you don’t need to supplement sodium.
4. Marios Kyriazis
Marios Kyriazis is medical director at the British Longevity Society, as well as a private doctor with patients who want to de-age. His bizarre recommendations come from personal routine—reading the newspaper upside down and reflected in a mirror; writing with his non-dominant hand; listening to music he hates; and arguing the opposite of his actual opinions.
Even more counter-intuitively, he tells his patients that stress is good. Although damaging to cells, little episodes of frantic activity (packing at the last minute for the airport, for instance) release more cell-repair proteins than are necessary to repair the damage. According to some, this process, called hormesis, leaves the repaired cells stronger than they were—lowering the risk of age-related health problems such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and heart disease. Not all stress is good, though. Prolonged, chronic stress is still a bad thing (for now at least). Other examples of the “short-term, mildly stimulating” beneficial stress Kyriazis is talking about include: shopping for a dinner party in a lunch break; redecorating a living room in a weekend; and learning to set the video recorder by reading the instruction manual. You know, things you’d like to spend eternity doing.
Kyriazis basically admitted to The Times in 2005 that he’s using his patients as guinea pigs, that his advice isn’t based on clinical trials. So you might want to give it a miss, especially when it comes to another of his recommendations: sleep deprivation.
3. James Strole
Driven by the loss of his grandmother, James Strole’s evangelism for human immortality began at the age of 11. In his twenties he toured the US to speak out against death. Later he formed a cult called the Eternal Flame Foundation, or CBJ—with the J standing for James and the C and B standing for his fellow founders Charles and Bernie Brown. Preaching in 26 countries around the world and to a mailing list of 30,000, they each extracted a salary of almost $500,000 from people afraid of dying, plus $1.12 million in event revenue, fundraising, and sales. The success of the group broke down, ironically, when prominent members started dying.
But Strole still thinks he’s in with a chance. He avoids bread and dairy, shocks his 74-year-old immune system with dips in his pool when it’s cold, and takes up to 70 supplements a day—including one to “energize the mitochondria”. He also lays on an “electromagnetic mat”, which, according to him, “opens up the veins”.
He doesn’t expect any of this to grant him immortality, though, not directly. He just wants to live until the next innovation—another 20 years or so—expecting that to grant him another 20 years to reach the innovation after that, and the next, and so on down the centuries.
2. Michael Nguyen
Former tailor to the rich and famous, Michael Nguyen recently founded Longevity House, “a curated environment” (whatever that means) and “private members’ club for Toronto’s burgeoning community of biohackers”. Lifetime membership costs $100,000 and grants those gullible enough to pay it access to all the latest fads—mostly tech, despite Nguyen’s stated commitment to “an ancestral grounding in nature”. There’s an AI exercise bike, electronic muscle-stimulation bodysuit, vibration plate, red light therapy room, and BioCharger—a controversial device that even Nguyen admits is placebo.
He’s not just in it for the cash, though; he’s a true believer himself. He eats one meal a day, takes supplements like metformin and rapamycin (which he falsely claims is “proven to reverse aging”), and uses the BioCharger daily. Although he’s in his 40s, he says his biological age is about 28.
Despite his total lack of medical training, he shrugs off his numerous critics—saying there’s always resistance “when you’re leading the charge” (which of course he isn’t). He also says he’s “operating outside the norms of society,” which, if he means this society, obsessed with money and youth, not to mention techno-solutions to manufactured problems, is also demonstrably false. Colonizing the body is just the next step for capitalism. And, speaking of colonizing, he’s also big into fecal transplants, which is exactly what it sounds like: taking poop from one person and putting it in another.
1. Bryan Johnson
Former Mormon missionary Bryan Johnson, 45, is desperately trying to get back to 18— by counting nocturnal erections and making his rectum “perform like a teenager’s”. He’s even taking blood from his 17-year-old son. He calls him his “blood boy”. The only scientific basis for this procedure, which takes a fifth of the kid’s blood, is the surgical joining, Human Caterpillar-style, of old and young mice to share a circulatory system. So it could get a lot worse for the boy, who, presumably, just doesn’t want his dad to disinherit him (as he did his fiancée Taryn Southern when she got breast cancer).
Johnson’s aging-backwards protocol, which costs more than $2 million a year, also involves eating dinner in the morning and taking 100 supplements a day. Despite his hour-long workout, he restricts his daily calories to 1,977 (the year of his birth). “I’m trying to prove that self-harm and decay are not inevitable,” he says, apparently oblivious to the irony.
As of 2021, he’d rewound the clock by five years. Substantially less than Ray Kurzweil, for example, whose approach is far more laid-back—not to mention ethical.