A king of 1980s nightlife, Mark Fleischman caroused with the likes of Ron Wood, Keith Richards, Rick James and John Belushi. He owned the last nightclub incarnation of Studio 54, and, by his own admission, enjoyed more than his fair share of illicit substances. Threesomes were commonplace, as was boozing and coking it up with Robin Williams, tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis and other members of his after-hours loving “Dawn Patrol.”
Come July 13, however, Fleischman will drop his final drug: a lethal dose of barbiturates. With the assistance of the Swiss non-profit group Dignitas, Fleischman, 82, will commit legal suicide.
“I can’t walk, my speech is f–ked up and I can’t do anything for myself,” Fleischman, who is confined to a wheelchair, told The 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.”
Fleischman, who now resides near the beach in Marina Del Ray, Calif., said neurologists have been unable to diagnose his disease that began in 2016 when suddenly his left leg began dragging.
“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,” Mimi Fleischman, his wife of 27 years, told The Post. “Doctors originally thought he had a form of Parkinson’s. But it is not that. Nobody knows what he has.”
His commitment to assisted suicide, Fleischman said, is not rash and has been percolating for at least two years. “I came to the decision slowly,” he said. “Two years ago, I decided that it wasn’t worth living. I took a lot of Xanax and ended up in the hospital.”
ER doctors brought him back from the brink of death, but, soon after, “I read a book about ending life. I read in there that the easiest way is to suffocate. But I did not want the bread. I was going to buy a gun. But my wife interceded. We started looking into a place where it would be legal to find someone to do it with.”
Initially, Mimi tried talking him out of the decision, but has decided to respect his wishes. “It’s going to be awful,” she said. “He is my partner and we are devoted to each other. So it is the end of a part of me as well. I have to honor what he wants. [But] he is not giving me a choice. He wants to end his life and this is a dignified way to do it.”
Assisted suicide is illegal in California, and you need to be a resident in any of the 10 states where it is legal. Instead, Mimi found Dignitas for Mark.
Dignitas launched in 1998 and is devoted to helping people commit suicide when their health is failing. In the case of Fleischman, members of the organization reviewed his medical records and had a series of conversations with him.
“They want to be certain that I am making the decision for myself,” he said. “After reading my material, they asked me some questions to make sure I was serious. I had to provide a notarized affidavit, stating that I want to die. I had to go to a psychiatrist and he confirmed that I am of sound mind. I provided all that and they said they want me over there.”
The organization will provide Fleischman with his life-ending medication and a place in which to consume it.
“Then,” he continued, “they take care of the body. They will cremate me and forward the ashes to Mimi in California. The whole thing costs around $15,000.”
Fleischman, who has no biological children with Mimi, will travel to Zurich via business class. “I fly out on July 8 and we do the death on the 13th,” he told The Post, explaining that, in typical Fleischman style, it will be a high-tone affair.
“We’re staying in a beautiful place, a resort on the lake,” he said, adding he has no “last meal” plan (“I eat well every night”) and no itinerary in mind. “I used to play tennis, and they have tennis courts there. Considering that I have never been to Zurich, maybe we will sight-see a little bit. Then, on Wednesday, I meet in the apartment that Dignitas has. I take a drink, I fall asleep and that’s it.”
Fleischman will not be alone. “Mimi,” he said, “will be right next to me.”
Now that he’s passed the psychological tests, said Fleischman, “I have what they call a provisional green light.” If, for some unforeseen reason, that were to change before his scheduled date, “I will tell them that I will jump out the window and leave a nasty note about how they tricked me into coming to Europe.”
As to why he is going public with the news, Fleischman said: “At 82, I decided, why keep it a secret? I lived on my own terms. I am not afraid of anything. Not even death. I look forward to it. I don’t believe in the hereafter. But I want to know what happens when I die. I’m curious. If I do come back as something else, I think it will be a wolf or a polar bear, an animal that has a good life.”
Fleischman’s candor puts him in the minority, as most people who choose assisted suicide play it close to the vest. For a while, he planned to do the same.
“I was going to go to Zurich and ‘have a stroke’ while on vacation,” he said. “I think people are ashamed [of assisted suicide]. But there is no shame in what I am doing. It is proper and reasonable at my age. I have done everything and been everywhere and met everyone I want to meet.”
In fact, he figures that the very splendidness of his existence makes it difficult to continue living under current conditions. “If I hadn’t lived the way I did, and had as much fun as I had, it might be different,” he said. “Right now I am like a vegetable. It is so hard to even get into the car.”
Fleischman grew up in Great Neck, Long Island, took in Harlem’s jazz scene of the 1950s and graduated from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Always drawn to the elitist route, he enlisted in the US Navy Officer Candidate School in the early 1960s as a means of avoiding the draft. He ran the officers club at a naval base in New Jersey and was released from service.
In his mid 20s, Fleischman, with an investment from his father, took over the Forest Hills Inn, a 300-room hotel located near the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.
In the late 1970s he regularly partied hard at Studio 54, where he met club owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. After the two were sentenced for tax evasion in 1980, Fleischman agreed with them and their attorney Roy Cohn in a jailhouse sit-down. It was agreed that he would assume ownership of the club. He took on Studio 54’s debt and, in a later deal, transferred ownership of his Executive Hotel in Murray Hill to Schrager and Rubell, who turned it into the now shuttered Morgans, said to be the first boutique hotel in NYC.
Owning Studio, Fleischman recalled, was a blast. He partied there with the likes of Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Halston, Liza Minelli and Cher.
“When you owned Studio 54, all of a sudden you became a semi celebrity,” said Fleischman. “At 4 in the morning, I would take a bunch of people in the limo and we would go to Crisco Disco” — an after-hours haunt, named for a lubricant of choice among gay Manhattanites — where they would imbibe in a mix of cocaine and ketamine powder concocted by the club’s owner. “There was great music and sex all over. I would go there to pick up women. All the women who went there were easy.”
After five years, from 1981 until 1986, Studio 54 and the lifestyle that came with it had both run their course for him: “It can destroy you. You can live that way for only so long.
“I liked to be high. So I would do drugs and drink. Possibly, this [health condition] is because I drank a lot and did drugs.”
Still, he added: “I don’t regret any part of my life.”
A strung-out Fleischman got straight through rehab stints at Betty Ford Center and Rancho La Puerta in Mexico. He married publishing executive Laurie Lister in 1986. They had a daughter Hilary — she remains close to her father but would not comment on-the-record about his decision — and divorced in the early 1990s after Fleischman got back into the nightlife business with a Midtown hotspot called Armadillo.
After moving to Los Angeles, he wed Mimi in 1994 and partnered to open the hip-hop centric Century Club in Los Angeles. He also got into the fitness business via a workout studio, Bar Method. It all followed on the heels of an ill-fated project with Donald Trump. When the former president owned the Plaza Hotel in the early 1990s, Fleischman made a deal to open a club there called Gauguin. “While we were in construction, the hotel was foreclosed on,” Fleischman revealed to Page Six. “Trump hadn’t told me. The bank came in like a ton of bricks.”
The basement-level club opened but it was short-lived. “I lost a couple hundred thousand [dollars],” Fleischman said. “And my investors lost over a million.”
In 2017, Fleischman published a candid memoir, “Inside Studio 54” about his wild times — even taking out a $1 million libel-insurance policy should anyone sue him for spilling all the stories. Also in the book, he writes about the suffering he saw his father endures before death.
“I watched my father cave in. His legs were in a lot of pain. He couldn’t walk either,” Fleischman said. “He said to me, ‘I want to die.’ I believed him.”
Having lost his parents and brother, Fleischman has shared his suicide plans with the remaining members of his immediate family. Everyone else, he said, “can read about it.”
Mimi holds no beliefs that her husband will chicken out.
“As he prepares to go through the Pearly Gates, he can change his mind — but I don’t think he will,” she said.
“The more I think about it, the more I want to do it,” he said. “I am flying direct to Zürich from LA. There will be no last party.”
If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this story, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text Crisis Text Line at 741741.