We were greatly saddened to learn of the [non-AIDS related] death of Mark Griffiths, a pioneering AIDS dissident activist who was single-handedly responsible for the development of the Altheal site and of the dissident movement in France. I first met Mark at the 2002 AIDS dissident conference in Barcelona where he gave personal testimony about his life free of the AIDS zone, and toxic AIDS drugs, since testing HIV positive 16 years earlier.
So few are willing to dig beneath mainstream communications on HIV/AIDS or even suspect that there is reason to do so. Anyone can come to know the many flaws in HIV/AIDS but to actively campaign to raise awareness of those flaws, and the breaches of patient rights contingent upon them, requires courage and integrity. Mark Griffiths had those qualities in abundance. From his recent interview with Duesburg, where Duesburg states that HIV is endogenous, to his legal challenge on HIV testing, Mark was a seminal contributor to the dissident movement who was never afraid to speak his mind. His death is a great loss. This site, and our French sister site Sidasante, will stand as testaments to his many years of research and campaigning endeavour.
John Kirkham, Altheal
In October 2004, I received an email from Etienne de Harven informing me that our good friend Mark Griffiths had passed away.
There wasn't any explanation offered of how he died - Was he sick, was it an accident, a murder, a suicide, illness, a very bad day? There was just Etienne's sincere and heartfelt message of shared sorrow for the friend he, and we, had lost.
The news hurt, terribly. I was supposed to have been in Europe the day he died, but cancelled my trip to get some much needed rest. I was supposed to have seen Mark. If I'd been there, I would have arrived expecting to meet my friend - and instead walked into his funeral.
I call Mark "my friend" because he was. He was a wonderful friend, an open-hearted, bright, kind, astute, always good-humored, generous person - Nearly egoless in his generosity - At least, he was to me.
I must admit, I knew Mark over a distance - from my home in the US to his in Southwestern France.
I met Mark in a moment of great need. When I couldn't find any media outlet brave enough to take the story of toxic drugs being plied into foster children in New York, Mark offered to put the story up on his site - Altheal. He immediately - like lightening - formatted the story, made it readable and presentable. He put it on his website, and he spread the word, far and wide.
Mark didn't balk when I asked him to put up photos and text from actual drug studies. He agreed - you can talk about drug toxicity - but it's nothing compared to seeing it.
He never asked for any recompense - his payment was clearly the simple act of making accurate medical information available to a public which is alternately disinterested in or starved for accurate, honest, non-corporate information about science and health.
Within a period of two months the press discovered the shocking story on Altheal. The story that couldn't find a publisher suddenly broke open in unofficial versions in the New York Post and the London Observer - and in versions penned by me in the NY Press and Crux magazine. Author Patricia Nell Warren wrote a powerful column about the whole evolution in A&U magazine. Mark even got two versions of the story translated (very well) into French.
This story - the forced-drugging of infants and children by the NIH, "The House That AIDS Built", "Orphans On Trial" - and the stuff Doug Montero and Antony Barnett lifted from me for the NY Post and London Observer - all happened thanks to Mark. No doubt about it. He gave a voice to the voiceless - he was the lynchpin. He allowed it to be public in a way that no one else would.
Mark would say that it wasn't just him - it was the children who are suffering, it was the moms who risked exposure by coming forward, it was my effort in getting it down on paper, and it was everyone who posted, emailed, blogged, telephoned and otherwise spread and supported the story.
As I got to know Mark, I discovered that he was much more than an activist for informed, sane medical practice. He was a musician. An old rock and roller. A reformed addict. A humble soul, a giving, caring friend. I discovered his spiritual side - his feeling of connectedness with the world. Mark felt a reverence and a connection with the energy that surrounds us, that is us. Whatever you want to call it - God, Allah, Brahma, Inspiration, the Creative Spark - he felt that the music that he played came through him - like a gift - that the music, rather, played him.
You'll find this sense in artists, writers, healers, dancers, teachers, and open-hearted beings throughout the world. He was certainly in good company.
I was finally getting ready to meet Mark, face to face, for the first time, after nearly a year of working together. But I cancelled my trip, due to near exhaustion from a non-stop year and a half, and a few months of intense moving and travel.
I had it high on my list to call Mark and express my terrible regret at not coming, and not being able to meet. We had talked about it many times. I looked forward to seeing the countryside and mountains, and sharing a few kind words and moments with this soul who'd been so kind and so helpful to so many.
And one morning, instead of writing the letter I planned to write, instead of having the call I wanted to have, I awoke to Etienne's email.
“It is my sad duty to inform you, that our friend, Mark Griffiths, has died, suddenly.”
My lord. Oh Seigneur. What happened?
My head was full of thoughts. Mark was suing the HIV test manufacturers. This was no small feat. He had been quite public.
Why sue? Because HIV tests are non-specific and cross-reactive - this is simply according to the manufacturers, the medical literature, and thousands of people who've tested positive for any variety of reasons that have nothing to do with viral infection. But you never hear this on the news, or in the doctor's office. It's well hidden - and a real betrayal of public trust.
Mark tested positive nearly twenty years ago - he thought because of his drug abuse. HIV tests will react with antibodies from just about any illness or condition - drug abuse causes significant antibody production. So, he was suing. An article about his case had just appeared in a large British newspaper.
It is dangerous to sue a multi-billion dollar company, especially when they are culpable. A couple people who knew about Mark mentioned John Le Carre's "The Constant Gardener." It seemed in the realm of possibilities that someone had gotten to him.
It would have to be considered, along with everything else.
As well as being a truth-seeker, a musician and a non-materialist, Mark was also a former heroine addict. He made no secret about it. He was unabashed,, because he had, long ago, quit.
In the late 1980s, Mark went into rehab. He quit the drug and spent 2 years learning about addiction and health.
Mark no longer used heroin.
But I wondered - Why die so suddenly, if not for use of drugs of this nature.
Heroin use isn't something that lets go easily. Vestiges remain even when the drug itself is out of the system. It's a lifestyle - a biological conditioning. It's the way you eat, or don't eat - the way you sleep or don't sleep. It's your nighttime hours and mid-day mind - your disposition and your self-perception. It's deep, it's affecting - It courses through your body into your waking and dreaming states, your attitudes, your dreams, your inner life, your burning spark - your cravings, wants, admonitions, conversations, arguments, your predilections and perversities. Your bathing, sleeping, eating, talking and thinking. It's your addict's nature.
But I knew Mark; he was cogent when I worked with him - never anything but. Almost. Sometimes he was - once or twice he'd been - a bit groggy.
But he told me that it was alcohol. In fact he told me that he did consume alcohol - perhaps more than he should. But, he said, “I’m not going to worry about it. Can’t be perfect. Anyway, you know, what harm does it do, really, from time to time.” And you could feel the smiling rationalization. The self-knowing that deceives the lie.
He'd quit the biggest thing he'd ever have to quit – heroin. No small feat. Most people can’t do it. Many who try don’t survive. Mark did. So, the thinking goes, what's the harm in a little alcohol?
Did Mark think, "I've lived quite a life. I'm not going to get caught up in the details of little problems. I'm going to give my life, my time and energy to helping others in need."?
Did he ignore a problem until it was too late?
Giving, helping, without ego, without worry for recompense - That is what he did.
No, he never impressed me in the least as a user - as a junkie. He was loose, yes. Lax in his approach to his drinking, perhaps. Yes, I must admit he did seem that way. But he wasn't a junkie. Not the way he was able to work, to program the computer, to organize his thoughts. Not bloody likely, after all.
I needed facts. I called Etienne. I called Etienne's daughter, who went to Mark's funeral; Mark’s sister in England; and Mark's neighbor - the one who found him.
Mark was found - in his car - sitting up. No needles, no drugs. Died overnight. Was it heart failure, organ failure - or a stroke?
He'd gotten into his car late at night and passed out. It was the first cold night in the mountains - very cold. Near freezing. There was an empty bottle on the ground by the open car door.
In the days before, Mark had been drinking - at least this is what two of the three people told me. Drinking heavily. There had been a festival, a rock and roll show. Mark was incredibly intoxicated - and not especially cogent.
He got into his car, probably to go roust some friends for late night conversation, as was his wont, and passed out. Did he die from exposure? Did he die from heart or liver failure? Was he poisoned by alcohol, or otherwise?
What was his condition of late?
Again, conflicting reports. Fine, said one. Cogent in September. Degenerating, said another. Falling apart. Not taking care of himself.
Etienne's daughter Anne had gone to the funeral and informally interviewed friends and neighbors. She described what she saw as a lifestyle much ruled by drink.
Perhaps Mark had traded heroin for alcohol. A common pattern among all addictions - the trade-up. Worse for better. Heroin for alcohol, alcohol for coffee and cigarettes and a rather fierce devotion to a religious ideal.
But Mark wasn't an AA or counseling type. He was more likely a self-medicating type. It seems likely that he allowed his indulgence for alcohol, because, after all, it was a significant improvement.
Before he lived in the mountains in the Southwest of France, Mark had lived with a doctor near Pierrelatte. One of Mark's duties as part of his living arrangement was to greet the patients who came to the doctor's home office. I was told that Mark would open the door inebriated about half of the time, greeted incoming patients in a state of total drunkenness. This was, I was told, at least part of the reason for Mark’s moving out.
He moved into the hinterlands, the mountains, dropping into the drop-out expatriate crowd - all fond of drink, and of Mark - but not, as it turned out, of Mark's ideas.
And this is what surprised me the most. Mark Griffiths, who staked his reputation - his life - on challenging the hegemony of bad medicine, surrounded himself with people who thought he was crazy; with whom the discussion of his core issues was a constant, hostile argument.
He lived with people who expected him to die.
When I called Mark's neighbor, I learned this first hand.
"It was AIDS," he said. "Pure and simple."
Dying in a car - sitting up straight – in a matter of minutes. An empty bottle on the ground. No autopsy, no tests for liver toxicity, no blood analysis. No remark about the lifelong drug and alcohol abuse, or the sudden freezing weather. “It was AIDS, pure and simple.”
He described Mark's ideas about health, and about challenging the faulty HIV tests as "ridiculous, outlandish, a waste of time."
"There's nothing to say really, is there?" he said.
When I mentioned alcohol as a possible factor, it was dismissed, with some anger.
AIDS - that was the only explanation.
And that's what it will be to a great many people.
Not the ravages of prolonged addiction. Not the psychological stress of your closest friends telling you that you're going to die "no matter what" - or that you're crazy for not swallowing chemotherapy pills like AZT. Not the psychology of self-abuse that accompanies the ex-pat, ex-rocker, semi-reformed-drug-abusing, alcoholic lifestyle.
Mark was a rock and roller. He lived like one, and he died like one.
Call it what you will.
After all, sometime, someday, someway - we all go to that place - whatever it is, wherever, whenever.
Mark always ended his emails with "Hugs" and his conversation with "Love you, man."
Love you, too, Mark.
Take good care of yourself. We'll miss you.