A close encounter with the man on the moon -- 40 years later

A close encounter with the man on the moon -- 40 years later

By Ivor Davis 07/16/2009

I recently went to a book launch party for Israeli-based author Lin Arison for her new coffee table art book, Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists. The party was hosted by Rosemary Stack, widow of the actor Robert Stack, in her luxurious Beverly Hills apartment.

Half an hour into the party, I found myself standing next to a bouncy fellow who looked to be in his late 70s. He had thinning silver hair, wore a trendy brown leather jacket, black pants, slip-on moccasin shoes, a red-striped shirt with a crazy, wildly colored, floral tie that assaulted the eyes.

He told me his name was Buzz Aldrin.

“Are you the Buzz Aldrin?” I asked — stupid question, as if there were more than one.

He smiled back indulgently.

I quickly regained my composure, and my journalistic instincts kicked in — how often does one get the chance to hang out with the lunar module pilot who nursed the Apollo 11 spacecraft onto the moon surface, 40 years ago this month.

After Buzz parked the “car,” fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first-ever stroll on the moon’s surface. Then Buzz stepped outside to check the weather and became the second man in the world to walk on the lunar terrain.

As we chatted, a slender, immaculately dressed blonde joined us. Lois Aldrin, I later learned, is Buzz’s third wife. (Wife No. 1 was Joan Archer, the mother of his three children; wife No. 2 was interior designer Beverly Zile.) Buzz said he married Lois on Valentine’s Day l988.

Mrs. Aldrin, too, was quite talkative, and Buzz didn’t beat about the bush. “Until she came along, I was a real mess,” he informed me. “She saved my life.”

“After the moon landing,” Buzz said, warming to his subject, “I crisscrossed the world telling people about the trip. But I’m a hopeless businessman. One day I woke up battling depression — which was a family thing — Addicted to booze, and dead broke.”

Aldrin, now 79, says he might have vanished from the face of the earth but for the intervention of Lois.

“I was smitten with her right away,” he recalled. “The funny thing was, when we were introduced, she didn’t have a clue who I was.”

His wife, he insists, gets all the credit for keeping him grounded.

“She pulled me together. I gave up the booze for good and she took control of my life,” he said.

 “He was a real innocent,” Lois said. “It’s hard to believe, but he just didn’t have a clue about money or how to manage it. In fact, he never cared about money.”

Aldrin had always been considered a bit offbeat for the line of work he chose. He was born in Montclair, N.J., and before he took his round trip to the moon, he had graduated from West Point, and flown 66 bombing missions during the Korean War.

After the moon journey, he popped up on talk shows, wrote several books, including novels, and got some flack for publicly declaring he had seen a UFO and then saying he had been misquoted.

He says he enjoys show business and appeared on the TV show The Simpsons, poking fun at himself. He even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And he hasn’t lost any of his feistiness.

Five years ago, when a documentary filmmaker confronted him outside a hotel in Beverly Hills, declared the whole moon landing was a “big hoax” and then called Aldrin a “liar and a coward,” the ex-astronaut responded with a swift blow to the filmmaker’s jaw.

Most recently, he recorded a hip-hop video called “Rocket Experience” with Snoop Dogg. He says he was happy with Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of him in the l976 television movie Return to Earth, based on his memoir.

Now, just in time for the 40th anniversary of the historic space voyage, Aldrin has penned a new memoir, “Magnificent Desolation.”

The title comes from his first words upon landing on the moon: “Beautiful. Beautiful. Magnificent desolation.”   

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