Monday, January 26, 2015

Rocky’s Short, Final Fall

Nelson Rockefeller shortly before his death. 

I’m sorry.  I just can’t help myself.
On January 26, 1979 Nelson Rockefeller, former Vice President of the United States, Governor of New York, Assistant Secretary of State, one of the richest men in America, patron of the arts, philanthropist, and Baptist collapsed with a massive heart attack at the age of 70. 
Unfortunately for him, he collapsed on 27 year old Megan Marshak, an aide to the political powerhouse.  He was naked.  So was she.  She struggled to get the large, heavy man off her.  In doing so she may have pushed him off her bed and onto the floor.  Anyway, that’s where he was found by a responding ambulance crew

In the town house at 13 West 54th Street in New York City where Rockefeller theoretically kept a secondary office, but was really Marshak’s residence, the young woman went into a panic.  The affair between the two had been a very well kept secret.  Rockefeller was very publicly married to his second wife, the former Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, herself a one time aide when Rockefeller was governor of the Empire State.  Not knowing what else to do, Marshak phoned her close friend news reporter Ponchitta Pierce.
When Pierce arrived, she found Rockefeller unconscious but still breathing.  The two finally decided to call an ambulance after determining that they could not get the man dressed.  The ambulance arrived after a delay of around an hour.  Rockefeller died in the vehicle on the way to the hospital.  Opinion remains divided on whether, given the state of medicine at the time, he could have been saved if he received immediate attention.
Meanwhile the family scrambled into a protective mode.  The first press announcements said that Rockefeller was found collapsed at his desk at his main office in Rockefeller Center by a security guard.  That tale unraveled quickly.  The family acknowledged that he was with Marshak, but claimed they were working together in the second office.  The press pretty quickly surmised that this was a ruse and began hinting, as broadly as possible in those more discrete days, that there might have been hanky-panky going on.
The widow Happy hastily arranged for her husband’s remains to be cremated.  But an official autopsy confirmed that Rockefeller died after a heart attack during or shortly after coitus
Ms. Marshak in professional mode.  Only 2 photos of her exist.

The family and close friends gathered for a funeral on January 29 and the ashes were interred at the private Rockefeller family cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.  On February 2 a public memorial was held at the famous Riverside Church attended by more than 2,200 people including President Jimmy Carter, former President Gerald R. Ford, more than 100 current or former members of Congress, as well as official representatives from more than 70 nations.   
Among those in attendance was Senator Barry Goldwater, whose insurgent campaign against Rockefeller and the hated Eastern Liberal Republican Establishment in 1964 denied Rocky his second shot at the Republican Party nomination for President—the one that was probably doomed by his hasty divorce from his first wife and equally hasty marriage to Happy, who had just dumped her own long-time spouse.

Nelson and Happy in better times.
Conservatives could hardly contain their glee at Rockefeller demise and the embarrassing circumstances.  They considered it the death knell of liberal Republicanism.  And it pretty much was.  It took a while, but the species Rockefeller represented is now as extinct as the dodo.  Even today a Google search of Rockefeller’s death will turn up dozens of right wing web sites still gloating and many consigning their old foe to eternal damnation.  These folks never give up a grudge.
As for the hapless young Megan Marshak, she held up for weeks in the town house, never leaving, answering the phone, or granting any interviews.  When Rockefeller’s will was read, Marshak was left the deed to the now infamous townhouse. 
Then she essentially vanished.  Only two know photographs, both taken before the death, are known to exist.  Despite enormous press interest she was able to disappear.  In 1992 it was reported that she was living in New York and working quietly as a TV news writer and producer.  In 2008 that pillar of journalism Parade Magazine reported that she had married and was living quietly in southern California.

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