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Marshall Herff Applewhite was the leader of the Heaven's Gate religious group. He was a self-proclaimed prophet. He died in the group's mass suicide in 1997.
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Marshall Herff Applewhite was the leader of the Heaven's Gate religious cult in Texas. He was a self-proclaimed prophet, drawing rhetoric from science fiction and scripture. He led his group to commit mass suicide in 1997 in hopes of being lifted into a spaceship. His second wife, Bonnie Lu Nettles, decided they were "The Two" mentioned in the Book of Revelation, meant for an important mission.
Cult leader and professor Marshall Herff Applewhite was born on May 17, 1931, in Spur, Texas. With Bonnie Nettles, Marshall Herff Applewhite created a religious cult commonly known as Heaven's Gate that drew from science fiction as well as scripture. In 1997, he led his followers to commit suicide in hopes of being transported onto a spaceship traveling with Hale-Bopp comet. Before finding his unusual calling, Applewhite seemed to lead a fairly normal life. He graduated from Austin College in 1952 and got married that same year. He spent two years in the Army Signal Corps.
Applewhite was known for his musical and dramatic talents. He sang opera and was a good public speaker, impressing people with his strong baritone voice and good diction. In the early 1960s, he tried for a while to make it as an actor in New York City, but he failed, according to an article in The New York Times. He then became an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, where served as choirmaster for several groups. Then he returned to Texas to head up the music department at a university in Houston.
While in Houston, Applewhite's life began to falter apart. He and his wife divorced in 1968; they had two children together. There are some reports that he struggled with his sexual identity. In 1970, he left his job and seemed to be having a sort of nervous breakdown.
Two years later Applewhite met Bonnie Lu Nettles, a nurse with a strong knowledge of the Bible as well as an interest in more unusual spiritual matters. They would later decide that they were "The Two" mentioned in the Book of Revelation and that they were on an important spiritual mission. Applewhite and Nettles spent months on the road, wandering around the country. Believing that their higher calling allowed them to ignore earthly laws, the pair was arrested for credit card fraud in 1974. Those charges were dropped, but Applewhite had another crime to answer for—the theft of a rental car. He rented one in St. Louis and never returned it.
Applewhite was sentenced to six months in prison. During his confinement, he began trying to refine the beliefs he shared with Nettles. They thought that they came from what they termed the "Level Above Human"—a physical and literal version of Heaven in outer space—and were sent to help others reach this "Next Level." To them, the human body was just a vehicle and that to ascend from this world people had to separate from all that was human in themselves, including their earthly needs and desires. They believed that a UFO would soon take them back to the Next Level after completing their mission.
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Combine a charismatic personality with fringe beliefs and an appetite for violence, and you get some of history's most notorious cult leaders. Charles Manson terrorized frightened Americans in the late 1960s, convincing his followers to commit heinous murders in his name. David Koresh led the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, leading to a standoff with the federal government in 1993 that resulted in the death of Koresh and 75 of his believers. Learn about these leaders, and many more, who inspired hundreds to follow their unconventional philosophies—often with tragic results.
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