Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Roy Scheider

The guru who gave the world Transcendental Meditation

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

1918 (?)–2008

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To his estimated 6 million followers, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a visionary whose philosophy could accomplish everything from relieving inner tension to promoting global peace. To his detractors, he was a huckster who, after glomming on to the Beatles, got rich by peddling metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Either way, the Maharishi (a Hindu word meaning “great seer”) was responsible for popularizing meditation in the West, establishing its health benefits through scientific studies, and making a household word out of the term “mantra.”

The Maharishi’s origins, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, were as elusive as his philosophy, said the Los Angeles Times. “Various accounts give the years of his birth as 1911, 1917, or 1918.” Originally named Mahesh Prasad Varma, he apparently earned a physics degree at Allahabad University in 1942; after graduating, he studied yoga with the master Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. At one point, he “retreated into the Himalayas for a two-year period of meditation.” In 1959, he established the International Meditation Society to promote the Swami’s idea of enlightenment. The formula was simple: “A person could reduce stress and attain happiness by meditating 20 minutes twice a day on a secret Sanskrit word, or mantra.”

In an age of flower power and Vietnam, said the London Independent, the idea proved wildly popular. People from all walks of life sought the Maharishi’s spiritual guidance, most famously the Beatles, who made a much-publicized pilgrimage to his ashram in Rishikesh, India, in February 1968. “Daily meditation certainly helped the group, especially John Lennon, who came off drugs completely.” The experience also inspired much of the Beatles’ “white album.” But when the Maharishi began suggesting that he and the Beatles make a movie and tour together, they grew suspicious. The breaking point came when the avowedly chaste holy man supposedly made advances toward Mia Farrow, who had accompanied the Beatles on their pilgrimage. When the Maharishi asked why they were leaving, Lennon shot back, “If you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why.”

“None of this dented the Maharishi’s growing global popularity,” said the London Mirror. Transcendental Meditation exploded in the 1970s, attracting such celebrities as Shirley MacLaine, Kurt Vonnegut, Clint Eastwood, and the director David Lynch. Featured on the cover of Time in 1975, the “Giggling Guru”—so nicknamed because of his merriment and witticisms—built a business empire with assets of $300 million in the U.S. alone. He established a university in Fairfield, Iowa, and worldwide meditation centers at which students pay $2,500 for five-day sessions to learn how to meditate. Despite his claims of simplicity—“I am a monk, I have no pockets,” he said—the Maharishi lived an opulent life, complete with a Rolls-Royce, helicopter, and pink private airplane.

Over time, the Maharishi’s claims grew increasingly outlandish, said The Washington Post. “His introduction of ‘yogic flying’ as an advanced meditation technique, which he had described as levitation, brought scorn from critics who said it was nothing more than cross-legged hopping.” He claimed that if the square root of 1 percent of the world’s population meditated simultaneously, their good vibrations could bring about world peace. He even suggested rearranging the world’s capitals for maximum cosmic harmony. The U.S. government, for example, was to move to Smith Center, Kan., “near the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states and the nation’s center of energy.”

The Maharishi eventually became a recluse, holing up in his log cabin on the German-Dutch border and generally communicating through closed-circuit television. In a rare 2006 interview, when a journalist asked about the Beatles, he snorted, “Forget about it! I did not become great by association of the Beatles! Beatles make Maharishi great? Pah! It is a waste of thought.”

The everyman actor who was a versatile action star

Roy Scheider


Roy Scheider, who died this week after a long battle with multiple myeloma, appeared in more than 60 movies over four decades and was nominated for two Academy Awards. He will probably be best remembered as Martin Brody, the shark-obsessed sheriff in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws—a role, he predicted, that “will be on my tombstone.”

“Born in Orange, N.J., Scheider was athletically gifted,” said Newsday. He played baseball and boxed; one bout in an amateur boxing competition left him with his trademark broken nose. He studied drama at Rutgers University and Franklin & Marshall College. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he put his “taut physique, authoritative speaking voice, and openhearted demeanor to good use” with the New York Shakespeare Festival and other stage productions, winning an Obie for the play Stephen D. The theater would always be his first love; in 1980, he received critical praise and a Drama League of New York award for his role in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, opposite Blythe Danner and Raul Julia.

But it was in film, especially in the 1970s, that Scheider made his biggest mark, said The New York Times. “He conveyed an accelerated metabolism in movies such as Klute (1971), in which he played a threatening pimp to Jane Fonda’s New York call girl, and in The French Connection (also 1971), as Buddy Russo, the slightly more restrained partner to Gene Hackman’s marauding police detective, Popeye Doyle.” His forte was portraying believable men in high-octane situations. As Brody in Jaws, he insisted on joining the hunt to kill the great white shark of the title despite his fear of water; in Marathon Man (1976), he was a doomed undercover agent. He was proudest, however, of his lead role in choreographer Bob Fosse’s autobiographical All That Jazz (1979). “Equipped with Fosse’s Mephistophelean beard and manic drive, Scheider’s character, Joe Gideon, gobbled amphetamines in an attempt to stage a new Broadway show while completing the editing of a film and pursuing a parade of alluring young women—a monumental act of self abuse that leads to open-heart surgery.”

Scheider continued to appear in movies, including 2010 (1984) and The Russia House (1990). He also starred in the TV science fiction series SeaQuest DSV (1993–1996). In recent years, he mostly lent his voice to documentaries and devoted his time to liberal political causes. He is survived by his second wife and three children.

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