American cult leaderDied when: 65 years 313 days (790 months)
Star Sign: Taurus
Marshall Herff Applewhite Jr. (May 17, 1931 – March 26, 1997), also known as Do, among other names, was an American religious leader who founded what became known as the Heaven's Gate religious group and organized their mass suicide in 1997.
It is the largest mass suicide to occur inside the U.S.As a young man, Applewhite attended several universities and served in the United States Army.
He initially pursued a career in education until he resigned from the University of St.Thomas in Houston, Texas, in 1970, citing emotional turmoil.
His father's death a year later brought on severe depression.In 1972, Applewhite developed a close friendship with Bonnie Nettles, a nurse; together, they discussed mysticism at length and concluded that they were called as divine messengers.
They operated a bookstore and teaching center for a short while and then began to travel around the U.S. in 1973 to spread their views.
They gained only one convert.In 1975, Applewhite was arrested for failing to return a rental car and was jailed for six months.
In jail, he further developed his theology.After Applewhite's release, he and Nettles travelled to California and Oregon, eventually gaining a group of committed followers.
They told their followers that they would be visited by extraterrestrials who would provide them with new bodies.Applewhite initially stated that he and his followers would physically ascend to a spaceship, where their bodies would be transformed, but later he came to believe that their bodies were the mere containers of their souls, which would later be placed into new bodies.
These ideas were expressed with language drawn from Christian eschatology, the New Age movement and American popular culture.Heaven's Gate received an influx of funds in the late 1970s, which it used to pay housing and other expenses.
In 1985, Nettles died, leaving Applewhite distraught and challenging his views on physical ascension.In the early 1990s, the group took more steps to publicize their theology.
In 1996, they learned of the approach of Comet Hale–Bopp and rumors of an accompanying spaceship, concluding that this was the vessel that would take their spirits on board for a journey to another planet.
Believing that their souls would ascend to the spaceship and be given new bodies, the group members committed mass suicide in a rented mansion.
A media circus followed the discovery of their bodies.In the aftermath, commentators and academics discussed how Applewhite persuaded people to follow his commands, including suicide.
Some commentators attributed his followers' willingness to commit suicide to his skill as a manipulator, while others argued that their willingness was due to their faith in the narrative that he constructed.