As Mark Fleischman drank the sodium pentothal that would kill him on Wednesday, he gazed at Mimi, his wife of 27 years.
“We looked at each other like, ‘This is crazy in a way.’ My feeling was, ‘Wow. I can’t believe this is happening, ‘”she told The Post. “I had a hand on Mark’s knee. The sodium pentothal is bitter. So they recommended following it with chocolate and a sweet drink. He ate it and drank it. Then, a minute later, he looked around and said, ‘I don’t feel anything.’ I think it was a throwback to his drug-taking days. Three or four minutes later, he was asleep. ”
As The Post reported last month, 82-year-old Fleischman – the former owner of Studio 54 – decided to end his life by assisted suicide at the Swiss headquarters of Dignitas. Located near Zurich, inside what looks like a ranch-style home, the non-profit organization legally provides heart-stopping drugs to those who suffer from terminal or severe illnesses.
Fleischman, who paid $ 15,000 to die, was wheelchair-bound and afflicted with a debilitating disease that could not be diagnosed or treated.
“There was always the option that he would change his mind; but in reality, it was the opposite, ”Mimi said. “But by the time we got on the plane to Zurich, he was adamant. He made a decision and this was what he wanted to do, even as friends read about Mark and asked him not to do it. But Mark wanted to die on his own terms. ”
Then, as July 13, the day of his death, neared, the hotelier, restaurateur and nightclub owner did rethink beliefs about his eternal future.
“Mark used to not believe in God at all. He was a complete Atheist, ”said Mimi. “He started to believe in God during the last few weeks. I believe in God… Mark came to believe that there is life after death. He made a change in his belief system about the continuation of existence.
“I asked if he would come to visit me. An old friend believes that Mark has already come to visit him. Mark and I talked about the fact that I would continue to see him and feel him in my life. ”
On Sunday, Mark and Mimi had boarded a Swiss Air flight and settled into business class like any other couple on a leisure trip to Switzerland.
“We had a little fun,” she said. “We enjoyed eating and drinking and we watched movies. I think Mark watched one with Johnny Depp.
“It didn’t feel like we were going to the end of the world, which, literally, we were.”
One day after arrival, following an overnight stay near the airport, they checked into a suite at the luxurious Romantik Seehotel Sonne, with large windows and views of Lake Zurich. There were thoughts of touring the city, but Mark’s health and the difficulty of maneuvering around in a wheelchair kept the Fleischmans on hotel grounds.
“Mark loved feeding the ducks,” Mimi said. “We would get bread from dinner – we ate perch, steak tartare, cucumber soup, amazing desserts with ice cream – and he would feed them. It was bittersweet. Mark and I had so much fun in our lives. We had some fun in Zurich, but it was also hard. ”
On Monday night, a doctor from Dignitas came to their suite.
“He wanted to make sure Mark could swallow,” Mimi said. “Beyond that, he seemed concerned that this was Mark’s choice and that he wasn’t being influenced. The doctor wanted to know who makes decisions, who is the boss in our relationship. Mark said, ‘Mimi figures everything out.’ I replied, ‘Under your direction. You tell me what to do and I do it. ‘”
In fact, it was Mimi who found Dignitas for him after Mark told her he was determined to take his fate into his own hands. “I came up with this idea,” she said, “as an alternative to him committing suicide at home.”
Fleischman, who lived in Marina Del Ray, told The Post in June that the idea had been percolating for at least two years.
“I can’t walk, my speech is f-ked up and I can’t do anything for myself,” he said. “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.
“I came to the decision slowly,” he added. “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 pain. 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. ”
On the morning of July 13, Mark ate a hearty breakfast of croissants, soft-boiled eggs, bacon and ham and reclined on the suite’s couch. Though Mark had earlier told Mimi that he was thinking a lot about his days as a student at Cornell University’s school of hotel management – “Those were good times,” said Mimi, “when Mark was young and had his whole life ahead of him.” – he was mostly quiet.
“There wasn’t a lot of conversation,” said Mimi, who managed to get only 15 minutes of sleep the night before, finally dozing off at 6 am and being roused, at 6:15, by Mark.
“I said, ‘I can’t even imagine how you are feeling.’ I would love to have said, ‘How are you feeling and what is going through your mind?’ But I gave him that cue. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it. And I didn’t want to push him. We said some sweet things to each other. We said how much we love each other. He said he was grateful to have been taken care of so well. That made me feel good. ”
At around 9 am, Mark and Mimi taxied to the Dignitas facility, about an hour outside of Zurich. Mark wore Ray-Bans and a hat that meant him as a Navy veteran.
“They offered us drinks and there were chocolates,” Mimi recalled. “Mark had a couple pieces and an espresso. There was a lack of anxiety. He was ready. ”
By 10:30, he had signed a few last documents and turned over a copy of his birth certificate. A nurse asked if he was ready to drink a formula that would coat his stomach ahead of the sodium pentothal, which would paralyze his muscles and cause cardiac arrest.
“Yes,” he said, choosing to stay in his wheelchair. “I am ready to drink this.”
“After that, there is a 30-minute wait until you drink the pentothal sodium,” said Mimi. “He could have laid down, but sitting at the table seemed very OK. We were left alone and talked about the fact that I would continue to see Mark and feel him in my life. I remember there was a clock on the table. It was 10:55. Mark said to go get the nurse. He was ready. I told him that it’s not a half-hour yet. But I went and got her.
“They asked Mark if he was ready and he said,‘ Yes, ’” Mimi continued. “Then they gave him the potion.”
Moments later, he was asleep, then he checked out from this life and went on to what he had come to believe is the next one. Mimi remained at his side.
“I stayed for another hour, to be with him,” she said. “I had all the mixed feelings. There was happiness for him that he could do it and that I could support him. I touched Mark. I realized that I am not going to touch him again. These were the last touches. ”
Mimi finally left for a hotel near the airport, expecting to fly home one day later. By the afternoon, though, she began to feel ill. On Wednesday night, she tested positive for COVID and is still camped out in the hotel, recovering, with the expectation of flying home to Los Angeles when she is healthier.
Her husband’s body will be cremated in Switzerland and forwarded to her in California.
Recalling her final moments with Mark, she said: “I didn’t cry. I was overwhelmed and relieved that he is free. ”