By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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Mayumi grew up in Japan, the youngest of three, in a "very normal" household with two parents who taught English. Now 48, makeup-free, smiling, and nodding warmly, she explains, "My brother influenced me." They listened to Deep Purple and "Stairway to Heaven." "My grandma had a guitar," she says, so she learned to play it. When Mayumi went to college in Japan, she joined an all-girls band called Women. One of their favorite covers was Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."
After teaching English to high school students for a year, she decided she needed to become fluent. Fascinated by the United States, she moved to Los Angeles in 1987 at age 23 and enrolled in Santa Monica College. Because of the distance and cost, she hasn't been back home to Japan since, nor have her parents visited, although she talks to them weekly. Richard has never met them.
By 1997, Mayumi was working an office job, but continued taking classes. She decided to enroll in the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, where Richard had also signed up. He was captivated when he saw her. "She was in two of my classes, and she told me she was in this other class, so I signed up for it too." In the first weeks of school, he also had his eye on one of his teachers — Jack Nicholson's ex, the actress Susan Anspach — and even wrote a screenplay for her about a young man seducing an older woman. When Anspach didn't get the hint, he went all-in with Mayumi.
"I didn't think he was..." Mayumi smiles shyly. She still has a Japanese accent.
"Say it!" Richard urges.
"Good-looking back then," she giggles. "I see a handsome guy now more than before."
(Overhearing this, Ryo laughs.)
They were thrown together for a class project, which led to a date, which led to Mayumi moving in. Soon, on a whim, they got married in Vegas. Richard was 36 and Mayumi, 33. They tried to use rings from a gumball machine, but those didn't fit, so they bought basic gold bands.
About a year later, Richard says, "I was fed up with being a contractor. I wanted to be a video editor." For $66,000, he and Mayumi bought an Avid video-editing machine and started a home business. When people called and asked whether he could handle various formats, he says, "I had no idea what they were talking about." But he took the jobs, read the equipment manual, and figured it out as he went. A couple of years later, they sold the business. Richard remembers Mayumi working "40,000 hours a week," her phone to the ear even as she nursed three boys.
Bradford came along in 1999, Ryo in 2000, and Falcon in 2002 (he'll turn 10 on New Year's Eve). Richard wanted to give the kids names that no one would make fun of. "With the name Richard, you can imagine the nickname — and then Heene rhymes with weenie." (Thus the imprint of his book.)
As Mayumi's due date for their youngest approached, the name Falcon came to Richard. "No one can make fun of that!" he thought. Hours later, Mayumi went into labor. "Most babies go, 'Wah, wah!' Richard says, "but Falcon went, 'EEeeeeeEEEEeeeee — eee — EEE!' like a peregrine falcon. And he was black! It took him hours to go to regular baby color." His voice "could pierce through walls" in a superhigh pitch. "It felt like an ice pick was penetrating you." A neighbor told them: "Your son has a very special voice." The seed of the metal band was planted.
Around this time, Heene invented a toy called "Box Time" — essentially, pieces of cardboard that small children could assemble into a playhouse while pretending to be builders, roofers, and electricians. Richard claims he was close to signing a deal with Elmer's Glue to promote the project, but it fell through.
Eventually the family moved to Colorado, "because we had to chase tornadoes," Richard says.
He had been interested in meteorology since 1979, when he was working in construction and saw that a tornado had picked up and moved an entire roof without knocking a single shingle out of place. Soon he began reaching out to professors and amateur scientists to bat around ideas. "I had these hypotheses... that storms generated magnetic fields... that a hurricane is a giant magnet that cancels out a little bit of Earth's gravitational force." He set out to predict how tornadoes touch down — "so that I could save some lives."
Some professionals wanted nothing to do with any "crackpot theories." Others were intrigued. In 2008, Richard was the lead author of an article titled "Electromagnetic Fields Recorded in Mesocyclones" in a scientific journal called National Weather Digest. He even flew into Hurricane Wilma with NOAA scientists.
"We would take the kids storm chasing," Richard remembers gleefully. "People were chastising us for that, but actually we were safer than people stuck in their houses." In their car, armed with a laptop and real-time satellite data, the Heenes would try to get on the southeast side of tornadoes to view them.
Richard and Mayumi made some videos about their adventures, which they later hawked as The Psyience Detectives, but they needed a big name to handle the voice-overs and generate buzz. Richard claims he once persuaded William Shatner to give him an 18-minute meeting. Shatner allegedly said, "What do you need me for? You're great." (Shatner's representatives confirmed the contact but downplayed the meeting.)