For the past six years, Fleischman had suffered from a progressively debilitating illness that doctors were unable to diagnose or offer relief from.
Well-known for his wild lifestyle as former owner of disco-era celeb hub Studio 54, Fleischman believed his illness might be related to drug-taking back in the day.
Throughout the heartbreaking process of bringing his own life to an end, Fleischman’s wife, Mimi, stood by his side. The couple traveled to Switzerland where on 13 July the nightlife mogul received help from Swiss self-determination group Dignitas.
Who was Mark Fleischman?
Best known for his stint as the owner of legendary disco-era club Studio 54, Mark Fleischman is a former nightlife mogul.
Born in Long Island on 1 February 1940, he grew up embedded in the 1950s Harlem jazz scene.
His first high-profile business venture was taking over the Forest Hills Inn when he was in his mid-20s, with the help of an investment from his father. In 1981, Fleischman also bought the already infamous Studio 54 from previous owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell.
From 1981 to 1986, Fleischman enjoyed the wild life that came with owning a world-famous club.
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“When you owned Studio 54, all of a sudden you became a semi celebrity,” Fleischman told the New York Post. “At four in the morning, I would take a bunch of people in the limousine and we would go to Crisco Disco”, an after-hours bar popular with New York City’s queer community.
There, Fleischman explained, he and his guests would take a variety of party drugs – their favourite was a mix of cocaine and ketamine. “There was great music and sex all over. I would go there to pick up women. All the women who went there were easy,” he added.
Fleishcamn’s mystery illness made life ‘not worth living’
His wild lifestyle seemed to take a toll on the former Studio 54 owner’s health. In 1986, he sold the club and proceeded to get sober via a series of stints in rehab.
Announcing his plan to commit assisted suicide, shared with the press in late June, Fleischmann said the debilitating illness had taken away his mobility, sense of balance and ability to perform daily tasks by himself. He was confined to a wheelchair most of the time.
Doctors originally thought he had a form of Parkinson’s, but that turned out not to be the case. Losing hope he could ever recover, Fleischmann first began considering ending his life two years ago. After a failed attempt that landed him in hospital, his wife found out about Swiss non-profit organisation Dignitas, which helps patients commit assisted suicide after an extremely rigorous screening process.
“I can’t walk, my speech is f–ked up and I can’t do anything for myself,” Fleischman said in a statement to the NY Post. “My wife helps me get into bed and I can’t dress or put on my shoes. I am taking a gentle way out. It is the easiest way out for me.”
Mark Fleischman’s wife, Mimi, opens up about the difficult decision
Mark Fleischman’s wife, Mimi, was by his side on 13 July, the date chosen with Dignitas for the procedure. The nightclub mogul was given a lethal dose of barbiturates.
The couple met in New York city during the 1970s, but finally tied the knot in 1994.
At the time, Mimi had two children from a previous relationship, Adam and Juliet, while Mark had been divorced from his first wife, Laurie Lister, for a few years. Fleischmann and his new wife, whom he described as his “dream girl”, married in a lavish ceremony and party held at Tatou in LA, Fleischman’s next nightclub venture after Studio 54.
Mimi described her husband’s daily struggles with his illness: “It is worse than not being able to walk. Mark doesn’t have balance. He drops things and does not know where his body is in space.”
She had initially tried talking him out of the decision, but he “gave her no choice”. She felt she had to accept his wish, even though “it’s going to be horrible”, she said. “It is the end of a part of me as well. I have to honour what he wants.”
Before his procedure, Fleischman was given time to change his mind, but his wife didnn’t believe that would happen. “The more I think about it, the more I want to do it,” he explained. “I am flying direct to Zurich from LA. There will be no last party.”
Legality of assisted suicide in Switzerland
Swiss law made assisted suicide legal in 1942, “as long as the motives are not selfish”. Applicants go through an intensive screening process that can often take months to ensure they are of sound mind and can understand and consent to what they’re doing.
Fleischman explained that, for him, the process involved providing case materials, a notarised affidavit proving he indeed wants to die, and a psychiatric evaluation. After getting a provisory green light from Dignitas, his procedure went ahead Wednesday, 13 July.
If you are affected by any issues raised in the article or would like someone to speak to, please call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. You can also email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch in the UK. In the US, please visit Samaritans USA for more information.