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Mark Fleischman, owner of Studio 54, dies by assisted suicide at 82

Mark Fleischman, a nightclub impresario who bought the hedonistic New York nightclub Studio 54 from its imprisoned founding owners and was its self-proclaimed “ringleader” in the early 1980s, died July 13 in Zurich. He was 82 years old.

The death was confirmed by Dan Fitzgerald, a former business partner, who shared a text message of Mr. Fleischman’s wife, Mimi.

Mr Fleischman announced his intention to take his own life in an interview published last month in the New York Post. He suffered from an undetermined degenerative disease which prevented him from walking or dressing. He said he attempted suicide two years ago, with an overdose of Xanax, but was revived in a hospital.

Because there are limits to assisted suicide in California, where Mr. Fleischman lived, he and his wife, Mimi, founded a Swiss organization, Dignitas, which, after careful screening, helps terminally ill people seeking to end their days.

“They want to be sure that I make the decision myself,” Mr. Fleischman told the New York Post. “After reading my material they asked me a few questions to make sure I was serious. I had to provide a notarized affidavit that I wanted to die. I had to see a psychiatrist and he told me confirmed that I was sane.

“There is no shame in what I do,” he added. “It’s okay and reasonable at my age. I’ve done everything and been everywhere and met everyone I want to meet.

Early in his career, Mr. Fleischman owned and managed hotels in New York, Florida, Virginia and the Virgin Islands. He was in his late thirties when he joined the party scene at Studio 54, which opened in Manhattan in 1977 and became a favorite hangout for celebrities.

The nightclub became famous for its decadence, sexual encounters, and open use of drugs, particularly cocaine and quaaludes. The nightclub’s two founders, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, became almost as famous as the rock stars, actors and models who indulged in Studio 54 and danced the night away. The clientele included Elton John, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Freddie Mercury, Rod Stewart, John Travolta, Andy Warhol and the cast of “Saturday Night Live”.

“The key to a good party is to fill a room with more interesting guests than you,” Rubell once said.

Rooms were set aside for group sex and other encounters, and naked trapeze artists and bikers added to the vibe. The club’s spirit of excess was summed up in an episode involving Bianca Jagger, then married to Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. She spent years denying that she once had rode a horse in Studio 54. In fact, Rubell knew of her love of horses and had one waiting inside when she and Mick arrived at the club on her birthday in 1977.

“It was a beautiful white horse that reminded me of my own,” she wrote in a 2015 letter to the Financial Times, explaining the incident, “and I made the foolish decision to ride on it for a few minutes … You’ll probably agree with me that it’s one thing … on a whim to ride a horse in a nightclub, but it’s another to ride one.

In February 1980, the first incarnation of Studio 54 came to an end after Rubell and Schrager were convicted of embezzling club money and evading over $700,000 in taxes. Both went to jail.

Mr Fleischman arranged a meeting in prison with the two owners through lawyer Roy Cohn, who had been a key ally of the young Donald Trump. Mr. Fleischman ended up buying Studio 54 in a deal in which he sold an aging hotel to Rubell and Schrager.

Studio 54 reopened in 1981, with Mr. Fleischman as the new manager.

“I was the lead for nearly four years and became addicted to performing,” he wrote in a 2017 memoir, “Inside Studio 54.” “Each night, celebrities and amazing women would make their way through the crowds to sip champagne and share lines of cocaine with my golden straw or rolled up hundred dollar bills.”

One employee’s job was to cut even lines of cocaine, up to 40 at a time. To avoid the crowds, Michael Jackson went to the DJ booth and danced alone. At 5 a.m., Mr Fleischman had a taxi arrive at the door to take Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve and other ‘dawn patrol’ members to after-hours clubs to party .

Mr Fleischman said he took Valium to fall asleep and then used cocaine to clear the dizziness when he woke up in the afternoon.

In 1984, friends staged an intervention and helped Mr. Fleischman seek treatment for his addictions at the Betty Ford Center in California and later at a facility in Mexico. He sold Studio 54, and it closed permanently in 1986.

Rubell and Schrager, meanwhile, found new success opening exclusive “boutique” hotels. (Rubell died in 1989.)

When visiting Rubell in prison to arrange the purchase of Studio 54, Mr. Fleischman recalled to the New York Daily News in 2017, Rubell said: “The pressure of having to entertain people all day and all night every night really got to me. I’m glad it’s over. I didn’t know what he meant. But after 3 and a half years of owning Studio 54, I felt the same.

Mark H. Fleischman was born on February 1, 1940 in New York and grew up in the community of Great Neck on Long Island. Her father owned hotels and her mother was a housewife.

He was 10 when his parents took him to New York’s Copacabana nightclub, “and it colored my world forever,” he wrote in his memoir.

Mr. Fleischman graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in 1962, then served in the Navy for two years, running an officers’ club. He was in his twenties when, thanks to a loan from his father, he bought his first hotel in Forest Hills, Queens, near the tennis venue of the US Open. He then owned other hotels, restaurants and ski resorts.

After Studio 54, Mr. Fleischman opened Tatou, a music club and restaurant in New York, then established other branches in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Aspen, Colorado. From the 1990s to around 2007, he ran the Century Club, with hop music, near Los Angeles.

“We’ll always have stars, we’ll always have friends of stars,” Mr. Fleischman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2001. “I know how to take care of them. This is how you keep a club hot and cool.

Later, he ran a chain of fitness studios with his second wife.

His marriage to Laurie Lister ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife since 1994, the former Mimi Leonard, of Marina del Rey, Calif.; a daughter from his first marriage; and two stepchildren.

In 2016 Mr Fleischman said he noticed his left leg was dragging as he walked and his condition kept getting worse. He said his father had the same disease and lost the use of his legs.

“Doctors originally thought he had a form of Parkinson’s,” Mimi Fleischman told the New York Post. “But that’s not it. Nobody knows what he has.

Mr Fleischman said his wife would be by his side in Switzerland when he drank a solution that would put him to sleep and then lead to his death.

“At 82, I decided, why keep it a secret?” he said last month. “I was living on my own terms. I’m not afraid of anything. Not even death. I can’t wait. I don’t believe in the afterlife. But I want to know what happens when I die. I’m curious.”