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Hughes, Howard

Category: Explorer or adventurer

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (1905 –  1976) was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, film maker and philanthropist.  He was one of the wealthiest people in the world.

There is nothing even remotely spiritual about Howard Hughes, but in later life Hughes is remembered for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle as well as 'psychotic behaviour' [hallucinations, delusions and visions to you and me] all brought on by chronic pain and Codeine abuse.

His story is, in some ways, quite sad.  As a little boy he was something of a child prodigy showing great aptitude in engineering at an early age.  He built Houston's first radio transmitter when he was 11 years old. At 12, Hughes was photographed in the local newspaper, identified as being the first boy in Houston to have a "motorized" bicycle, which he had built himself from parts taken from his father's steam engine. He took his first flying lesson at 14.

 In 1925, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started to make 'movies'.  His first two films, Everybody's Acting (1927) and Two Arabian Knights (1928), were  successes. The Racket (1928) and The Front Page (1931) were  nominated for Academy Awards. Then came Hell's Angels (1930) and another hit, Scarface (1932). The Outlaw (1943), completed in 1941, featured Jane Russell.

Hughes Aircraft Company was originally founded by Hughes in 1932.  During and after World War II, Hughes fashioned his company into a major defense contractor.  Hughes was a lifelong aircraft enthusiast and pilot.  He built the Hughes H-1 Racer and H-4 "Hercules" (better known to history as the "Spruce Goose" aircraft), and acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines, which would later on merge with American Airlines.  He set many world records and commissioned the construction of custom aircraft to be built for himself while heading Hughes Aircraft.

On September 13, 1935, Hughes, flying the H-1, set the landplane airspeed record of 352 mph over his test course near Santa Ana, California.   A year and a half later, on January 19, 1937, flying the same H-1 Racer fitted with longer wings, Hughes set a new transcontinental airspeed record by flying non-stop from Los Angeles to Newark in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds.  On July 10, 1938, Hughes set another record by completing a flight around the world in just 91 hours (3 days, 19 hours), beating the previous record by more than four hours; Hughes returned home ahead of photographs of his flight.

So up till now we see an adventurer and entrepreneur.  But his love of aircraft and his involvement with flying new designs resulted in a near-fatal aircraft accident on July 7, 1946, while piloting the experimental U.S. Army Air Force reconnaissance aircraft, the XF-11, over Los Angeles. The aircraft crashed in flames and Hughes sustained significant injuries in the crash, including a crushed collar bone, multiple cracked ribs, crushed chest with collapsed left lung, shifting his heart to the right side of the chest cavity, and numerous third-degree burns.

As early as the 1930s, Hughes displayed signs of mental illness, primarily obsessive-compulsive disorder. Close friends reported that he was obsessed with the size of peas, one of his favorite foods, and used a special fork to sort them by size, but the pain and the truly massive amount of opioid based pain killers he received in hospital over a very extensive time period caused him to go completely loopy.  His doctor, Dr.Mason first gave Hughes Morphine and then replaced it with Codeine.  Later on, near the end of his life, his other doctor Dr.Chaffin would blame Dr.Mason for starting Hughes on the road to addiction.

In 1947, one year after his near-fatal aircraft crash in 1946, Hughes told his aides that he wanted to screen some movies at a film studio near his home. Hughes stayed in the studio's darkened screening room for more than four months, never leaving. He existed exclusively on chocolate bars, chicken, and milk, and relieved himself in the empty bottles and containers.

He was surrounded by dozens of Kleenex boxes, which he continuously stacked and re-arranged. He wrote detailed memos to his aides on yellow legal pads giving them explicit instructions not to look at him, to respond when spoken to, but otherwise not speak to him. Throughout this period, Hughes sat fixated in his chair, often naked, continuously watching movies. When he finally emerged in the spring of 1948, he had not bathed or cut his hair and nails for weeks.

One of the problems with receiving opioids for any length of time is that when you stop taking them, any pain becomes excruciating as the body's natural endorphins no longer have receptors to bind to.  Thus the pain he was experiencing must have been appalling and he will have been suffering from opioid withdrawal symptoms – the same sort of symptoms one gets after heroin withdrawal.

Hughes' erratic behavior continued.  He would sit naked in his bedroom with a pink hotel napkin placed over his genitals, watching movies. I would guess that the movies took his mind off the withdrawal symptoms.

Once one of the most visible men in America, Hughes ultimately vanished from public view. He was reported to be terminally ill, mentally unstable or even dead.  In order to alleviate both the pain and the withdrawal symptoms he became severely addicted to codeine, which he injected intramuscularly.

Hughes died on April 5, 1976, on board an aircraft en route from his penthouse at the Acapulco Fairmont Princess Hotel in Mexico to The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.

His reclusive activities and drug use had made him practically unrecognizable; his hair, beard, fingernails, and toenails were long, his tall 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) frame now weighed barely 90 lb (41 kg). He was suffering from malnutrition and kidney damage.   X-rays revealed five broken-off hypodermic needles in the flesh of his arms. To inject codeine into his muscles, Hughes used glass syringes with metal needles that easily became detached.

Despite his reputation as a ruthless businessman and political manipulator, there was a side to Hughes before the drugs took over that spoke of someone quite different.

Hughes dated many famous women, including Billie Dove, Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney and Joan Fontaine. Bessie Love was a mistress during his first marriage. Jean Harlow accompanied him to the premiere of Hell's Angels.  Despite his love of women, he does not appear to have been that successful romantically with women.  Attempts yes, failures numerous.  Gene Tierney, after his failed attempts to seduce her, was quoted as saying "I don't think Howard could love anything that did not have a motor in it."  

But it was not true.  He may not have been a sexual dynamo but he had plenty of love.  When Tierney's daughter Daria was born deaf and blind and with a severe learning disability, Hughes saw to it that Daria received the best medical care and paid all expenses.

In 1953,  Hughes gave all his stock in the Hughes Aircraft Company to the newly formed Howard Hughes Medical Institute, thereby turning the aerospace and defense contractor into a tax-exempt charitable organization.  The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is still a major organisation. The HHMI is the largest organisation in the USA  devoted to biological and medical research, with an endowment of US$16.3 billion as of June 2007.

After his aircraft accident and despite the fact that his doctors thought he would die, Hughes spent his time redesigning his hospital bed.  He called in plant engineers to design a "tailor-made" bed.  He never had the chance to use the bed that he designed, but Hughes's bed served as a prototype for the modern hospital bed in common usage today.

He was at heart a good man destroyed by the American dream – money and drugs.

Towards the end of his life, he suffered appallingly from paranoia, hallucinations and delusions.  The obsessive compulsive disorder that everyone seems to think was the problem, was far more likely to have been caused by the drugs – hallucinations [seeing germs, spiders, insects etc on everything] and out of body experiences.  The following comment on the film about him – the Aviator – seems to me to be a good summary – the classic out of body ……

My interpretation of it – at least from the film – is that, for whatever reason, in sudden unexpected moments, Howard Hughes would completely dissociate from himself. Another “self” would split off, dramatically, from his other self. Suddenly – like a plate cracking in half – there would be two Howards.  And the one that split off to the side was the judgmental voice, the critical voice … that critical voice took over. The critical voice won the battle completely. The critical voice, out of nowhere, started SCREAMING. And so Hughes, trying to please this inner critic, this unforgiving inner voice just kept saying the same words, over and over … does this sound right? Does this sound phony? Will this please that voice? No? How ’bout this? How ’bout if I say it like this? Until Hughes was completely lost in the compulsion, and would have to absent himself from the room.”

Maybe his Higher spirit was trying to tell him something.

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