Why Die?

At 80, Miller Quarles figures he should have 100 good years left. And Houston's apostle of life extension is determined to find them.

Despite his blind faith in science, Quarles has to realize that his quest has evolved -- or degenerated -- into little more than a lobbying effort. As a lobbyist, his special interest is his own life. The advertisements, the columns and the personal pleadings are geared to raise awareness and support, both political and financial. The news of his "Quarles Prize" led to senior citizen bodybuilder and fitness author Bob Delmonteque putting up another $100,000, raising the ante for the scientist who solves aging to $200,000.

And Quarles continues a massive letter-writing campaign that, despite its lofty goal of unlocking eternity by supporting research at the cellular level, has as its modus operandi the cliched advice given to many a disgruntled citizen -- write your congressman. After years of writing rich, powerful and famous people, he was positively aglow recently that someone from Ross Perot's office had written him back with an "interesting" response.

Quarles can be quite persuasive in person, as his weekly tennis opponent and COADS board member Marion Weiler attests. Calling him a "great proselytizer," the Hastings High School science teacher recalls all the arguments they had when she agreed to help him. "He'd give me his letters and articles to edit, but I'd argue and debate with him," she says. "It was like when I was in college and had an instructor who liked Ayn Rand. You had to accept the initial premise of Rand -- that man is a selfish animal -- to get her books." She admits early cynicism with Quarles but is now "much more optimistic about the possibilities." Her reluctance to be as obsessive as Quarles about longevity may have something to do with her age, which at 51 is 29 years less than Quarles'.

"I can convince you we'll have a cure possibly in five years, more probably in ten years, almost certainly in 15 years and damn sure in 20 years," Quarles says. "If you're 40, you don't care if it's five, ten, 15 or 20, do you? You've got plenty of time."

Quarles doesn't have plenty of time, and he's acutely aware of that. The clock is ticking as he types his column, talks to Rotarians or writes his congressman. Since there are no pockets in shrouds, he considers the estimated $30,000 a year he spends on COAD's promotional efforts as money well spent. Ensconced in the downtown mission control of his anti-aging campaign, Quarles resembles a jailhouse lawyer surrounded by law books as he prepares one more appeal on his death sentence. Giving up at this point would be silly. He's in this fight until the end.

His resilience is the result of a simple choice, one governed by inescapable logic. "I'm due to die within five years due to the actuary tables," he says, his books and charts and stones a backdrop to his statement of finality. "It's almost like I've got AIDS. If you've got AIDS, you're damn anxious to get a cure for AIDS. I'm damn anxious to get a cure for old age.

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