Jack Horkeimer, besieged by sex complaint, dies

On a sweltering June afternoon, the sun beats down on a dingy faux-Frank Lloyd Wright house in upscale Pinecrest. A jungle of untrimmed trees and plants chokes the yard. Inside, half-packed boxes clog the rooms and hallways. Ancient Etruscan statues and Greek artifacts that once lined the walls are gone. The main bedroom is pitch black, the curtains pulled tight. In the darkness, the only sound is a long, painful wheeze.

Aside from his famous mustache, Jack Horkheimer is nearly unrecognizable. The 72-year-old astronomer from Star Gazer — a weekly TV series watched by millions of viewers for decades — lies on an inclined electric bed in nothing but a soiled diaper. The room stinks. Dirty tissues cover the floor. Slowly, he fumbles for the phone and dials a friend. "Save me," he pleads. "Save me."

When help arrives an hour later, Horkheimer mumbles about Satan and past sins. He screams that nobody should open the curtains because "neighbors will throw stones through the window." The man who spent his life telling children to "keep looking up" at the stars is now afraid of the outside world.

But Horkheimer's hellish last months were just beginning. Three weeks later, a man claiming he was forced to receive oral sex from Horkheimer as a 15-year-old sued in Miami-Dade County court, demanding $5 million. A process server chased the ailing astronomer through five hospitals and assisted living centers. Even when Horkheimer died on August 20 in Homestead of lifelong lung problems, the drama didn't end. Friends, family, and lawyers are now battling over a will signed on June 21 — the day a doctor declared Horkheimer mentally impaired.

"These thieves pretended to be Jack's friend in order to get his money," protests close friend and one-time lover Vasko Jontschev. "It's disgusting."

Horkheimer was the face of the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium for 44 years. His zippy five-minute Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer TV spots were seen across America from 1976 until last summer. But a New Times investigation paints a much different picture of the renowned astronomer. For the first time, interviews with family and friends reveal an agonizing end to Horkheimer's highly publicized life. Meanwhile, audio recordings never before made public suggest the gregarious showman had grown so distraught and suspicious of everyone around him that he was illegally recording scores of phone calls. He died paranoid and lonely. (See "Audio: Jack Horkheimer Admits to Taping Phone Calls, Offers to 'Help' Alleged Sexual Abuse Victim 'Out of This Trouble.'")

Foley Arthur Horkheimer was born in Randolph, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, in the summer of 1938. Jack, as he was called, was so crippled with severe asthma that his parents took him to Oklahoma City when he was 10 for radical 45-minute x-ray sessions. Instead of healing him, the therapy nearly killed Horkheimer. He vomited and lost his hair, then contracted pneumonia. By age 18, Horkheimer was suicidal: His health was failing and he had abandoned Catholicism. Finally, while in college, doctors correctly diagnosed his lung problems as bronchiectasis, a degenerative genetic disorder. After graduating with a drama degree from Purdue, Horkheimer moved to Miami in 1964. Doctors told him the warm, humid air would give him a couple extra years to live.

Horkheimer found a job at the newly built Space Transit planetarium. There, he designed surreal laser shows, adding loud music and special effects beloved by children and stoned teenagers alike. Soon the planetarium was drawing huge crowds, stoked by Horkheimer's strange publicity stunts. He was more showman than scientist, once appearing in a bright pink elephant costume for the debut of a laser show to the tune of Pink Floyd's The Wall. In 1976, Horkheimer turned his planetarium popularity into five-minute videos on WPBT-TV (Channel 2), in which he taught viewers about the stars and planets in his distinct, nasal voice. By the time he taped his final show this past summer, Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer was broadcast on PBS stations from Alaska to Hawaii.

"He came across as sincere and honest, that's why people liked him," says cousin Mark Cody, a prison social worker in Wisconsin. He says Horkheimer was a favorite among inmates. "They were locked up in their cells but they had little windows. They could still see the stars. His show opened up the sky to them."

But with fame, Horkheimer also became a target. A thief robbed him at knifepoint in his home in 1981. A year later, a late-night astronomy event turned into a violent riot. He also gave shelter and money to people — often young men — in need, says Vasko Jontschev, who moved to Miami from Bulgaria in 1976; Horkheimer found him a job selling snacks at the planetarium.

Horkheimer stepped down from his job at the planetarium in January 2010 but kept producing the TV program from home. His health remained fragile. Then last spring, a 50-year-old man allegedly recovered repressed memories of Horkheimer forcing oral sex upon him 35 years before. Attorney Adam Horowitz sent Horkheimer a letter on April 29 describing the intended lawsuit.

In May, Horkheimer left several messages, obtained by New Times, on a mutual friend's answering machine. In them, he desperately attempts to get in touch with the man who accused him of sexual abuse — whose name this newspaper is withholding along with the identity of the mutual friend. If the alleged victim is "distraught," Horkheimer says, he can "help him out of his trouble" by giving him money.

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19 comments
Safreed0425
Safreed0425

I wll always remember his program-starhustler? on channel 2, boy he knew the stars. It is sad that he abandoned his faith, I guess he became an agnostic or atheist, and as death approached he had no hope. This is the situation with such people,also what was his private life like over the years? Seems like he liked men&boys, he never married or had children. It looks like he had no close friends or family in his latter years, what a terrible way to die.

p
p

LOL,, gee, i 'remember' sticking my head out a tight wet orifice many years ago. i felt cold and the light was sooooo bright too! and there was these weird looking things grabbing at me and making strange sounds!!

just like doctors say it happens to other people too!

these repressed memory stories are just tooo fLukkkin funny!

watersisland
watersisland

Sad to hear of his passing. I always enjoyed Jacks zany and enthusiastic presentations which made the study of the sky much more interesting. Even sadder to hear of such accusations; the timing of which seems to have been presented only after Jack was no longer able to address and defend them. We'll never know.....but that's a horrible tag to throw at someone after such a distinguished carreer and they are no longer around to defend themselves.

bob0101
bob0101

I liked Jack and grew up in Miami and was a member of the Southern Cross astronomical society (the planetarium group) in the late 60's and early 70's. I had alot of fun as a kid then. now http://afloridabeachweddings.c... I do not know about this repressed memory stuff. I hope the lawsuit goes in the toilet.

Tina34
Tina34

What a sad story. Horowitz - you are a blood sukr. Money is evil.

AFMakeup
AFMakeup

The article is so poorly written, with so little research and reliability, misquoted and mistitled, bulging with erroneous information and pathetically biased that one can only believe it to be written by a hired hack for the attorneys representing the "victim" who is obviously in serious financial straights.

Glennchilada
Glennchilada

Repressed memories after 35 years? What's repressed is the guy bringing this suit; it probably did happen, but back then sucking some #### for a place to stay didn't seem like such a bad idea when he was all f'd up on drugs. Just guessing this is more about that person's guilt over some memories that a shrink helped him 'reinterpret'. Psychology is an inexact science, and barely a science at that.

Guest
Guest

New Times: stop being the publicity firm for the attorneys who are suing him.

smoke+fire.
smoke+fire.

the witness says the complaint is "largely accurate" and that he took in young men. where there is smoke there is fire.

Gracie
Gracie

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? :(

Andy33020
Andy33020

More mudraking. To Jack, "Keep looking up."

Jessy Brito
Jessy Brito

I despise the sensationalism of this article. It's a shame that there are so many out there who believe in repressed memories. It's a huge lie and a borderline epidemic. Repressed Memory Therapy has been used against hundreds of priests by thousands of now-adults lining up to settle with the Catholic Church. They know that in this nation, anyone rich will settle in order to avoid the accusations coming to public (because you're guilty automatically in the eyes of the public), and to avoid a further drain on their funds by paying for legal representation. Shame on SNAP and shame on Horowitz for representing this liar.

P_Nis
P_Nis

Fuck this idiot and his attorney. Severely disappointed in the new times for even writing this story.

wp
wp

A lawsuit based on returned - squashed memories...please - and to try to serve a guy while on his deathbed. I HOPE this lawsuit falls short before too much money is spent and too much destruction is done to Jack's reputation ... This lawyer should be ashamed of himself...

SNAPnetwork
SNAPnetwork

Let's hope that everyone who saw, suspected or suffered this man's crimes will speak up, get help, and start healing. David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

blakeedavis
blakeedavis

Disgusting sensationalim in the cover of "news" and a obituary. Shame on the writer (who writes well btw) for picking this subject. IMHO anybody who has "repressed memory" is a retard and I don't mean that in a good way! Damn, I just remembered that this writer ate a turd I dropped 30 years ago too, and wanted more! Not exactly fair is it?

mtnfraggle
mtnfraggle

This had nothing to do with atheism. Plenty of atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, face the end with dignity and peace. Unfortunately, Horkheimer's mind and body failed him in the end.

aminor1950
aminor1950

That's kind of New Times' modus operandi.

p
p

innocent until proven dead? guilty until proven alive?

 
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