Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
As a young man, Howard Hughes (born 1905) inherited the Hughes Tool Company from his father, using it as the starting point to build a vast business empire. He was a pioneer of aviation design and a daring test pilot (in 1946 he was nearly killed when the aircraft he was testing crash-landed and burned). In the 1930s and ‘40s, he was a movie maker in Hollywood, having become enamored of the movies as a child. He owned an airline and then another one, getting into trouble with the U.S. government for violating antitrust laws. At one time he owned almost all the gambling casinos in Last Vegas, lending an air of respectability to an unsavory industry. For a while, he was not only the richest man in America, but the richest in the world. He was a playboy, an escort for some of the most beautiful and well-known ladies in Hollywood. He had ties with organized crime and rubbed elbows with some of the most famous political leaders of his time. More than anything else, though, he was known for being extravagantly eccentric, reclusive, and mysterious.
This following quote from the nonfiction book, Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes (by Douglas Wellman and Mark Musick), tells us a lot about the real Howard Hughes:
“The world of Howard Hughes is sometimes unfathomable. Between the things he did do, the things he didn’t do but was accused of, and the things he did but covered up, his life is a bewildering series of conflicting stories. He was a master of secrecy, intrigue, and diversion, which is apparent from the abundance of books and articles on the man, many of which are contradictory.”
At the height of Howard Hughes’ fame, the world knew him as a rich eccentric. People loved to talk about him and write about him, but much of what was spoken and written was exaggeration or blatantly untrue. Nobody could know Howard Hughes, so people fabricated stories about him to sell books, newspapers and magazines. He was “hot” copy.
The world believes that Howard Hughes died a broken old man at age 71 in April 1976. He had been living in a Las Vegas hotel room, barely kept alive by his uncaring custodians. He was filthy, malnourished, emaciated and addicted to Codeine, Valium, and other drugs that he didn’t need. He left behind a fortune in excess of two billion dollars. At the time of his supposed death, he had at least forty pending lawsuits against him and was being hounded all the time by the U.S. government for non-payment of taxes. Great wealth has its own unique problems.
The premise of the nonfiction book Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes is that Hughes didn’t really die in 1976. A decoy died in his place, a Howard Hughes stand-in, presumably a Las Vegas derelict of about the same age, with similar physical characteristics. Why would a man like Howard Hughes fake his own death? The answer should be obvious. He wanted to be left alone, to live the rest of his life in peace and seclusion. The forfeiting of his great wealth was the price he was willing to pay.
We hear all the time about people faking their own deaths, but if anybody could do it, it was Howard Hughes. He had the means to do it and the “enablers” to carry out his wishes and keep their mouths shut. He assumed the name and identity of Verner “Nik” Nicely. He married a woman named Eva McClelland. He died in 2001 at the age of 95.
The book presents plenty of compelling evidence that the mysterious and eccentric old man named Verner “Nik” Nicely was in reality Howard Hughes. Mr. Nicely had burn scars on his body, consistent with the scars that Howard Hughes sustained in a crash in his test pilot days. He was the same height as Howard Hughes, had the same physical characteristics, and was in possession of encyclopedic knowledge of aviation and mechanics. His wife, Eva, who died a few years after he died, was certain that she was married to the once-famous Howard Hughes. Read the book and decide for yourself if she was telling the truth.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp