Who Killed Beloved Berkeley Leader and Ate Her Ashes?
by Steed Dropout
Aug. 7, 2012
BAD COLD, BAD MEDICINE, AND OH YES, EATING THE ASHES OF THE DEAD
Berkeley activist Gina Sasso was leading protests against a controversial city attempt to ban sitting on business-district walks, when she died last May of pneumonia at 49; her friends wondered how a seemingly healthy young woman could die of “a cold.”
A bad cold, to be sure. Or was it bad medicine?
When we reported this story last year, we reported official cause of death from “bacterial infection in her lungs due to an auto-immune disorder that was never diagnosed.”
There was much more medicine in our story, and much more material for the lurid stories behind our lurid stories.
It was possible to blame Sasso’s death on her dog, her husband, her relatives, her adopted granddaughter, an adorable and exuberant three-year old we’d photographed at demos, her former employers, the entire health system, and even myself — and of course, Sasso.
This was a tricky yarn, with risks of pissing-off her friends and family; many of the events depicted in my Planet piece were deeply personal, still raw to her closest friends.
But through mostly good luck, we survived with a story for which many of Sasso’s friends thanked us. Others sent it out to their Face book friends, and the piece got one of our highest readerships.
We are about to submit the piece for a California Journalism Award, and told our editor, who is submitting, that it was a “murder yarn, in which, the victim returns from the dead (three times!), and her husband, after praying over her ashes — eats them!”
That would be a great yarn all right. How could the judges resist?
Only I noticed I had left out the ashes-eating. I recalled that at the time I had feared the piece already was macabre enough without any ashes-eating.
We are restoring this part of our piece for you Berkeley Reporter ghouls out there.
EATING THE ASHES OF THE DEAD*
*The Yanomami have the habit of cremating remains and then eating the ashes with banana paste.
Was it just a public speaker’s gimmick? Sasso’s husband, a people’s Park founder from the sixties is a speaker so inspirational, he could motivate you to fly.
At a “birthday” party for Sasso, who would have been 50 last Sept., her husband, Michael Delacour, 75, appeared before us in his living room with a small wooden box. (I had gotten a laugh at the memorial by saying I was old enough, at 72, to be Sasso’s…pause…husband).
Holding the box overhead, Delacour, in tears, his shoulder-length snow-white hair flowing, pulled out a plastic bag, and slammed it to the floor in anger. “This my wife,” he moaned in agony. This is my wife,. Gina. [pause] This is gina.”
Then he did the unthinkable. He reached into the bag for a pinch of his wife’s ashes and ate them. He said later he had gotten the idea from the gods, and that “the ashes tasted like Gina.”
Delacour would subsequently disperse portions of Sasso’s ashes at the Berkeley Marina, and on a tour through Europe recently in which he dispersed her ashes at sites where they had honeymooned 20 years before.
But did Sasso return from the dead three times, as I bragged to my editor? You decide.
BACK FROM THE DEAD…THREE TIMES
Sasso’s three “appearances”:
(1) When her adopted 3-yr.-old granddaughter met me at the door proclaiming gleefully, “it’s Gina’s birthday; it’s Gina’s birthday. Gina’s inside.”
(2) When her husband introduced the box of her ashes.
(3) When her husband dropped the ashes to the floor, and said, “this is Gina….”
Sasso has been dead almost a year, but Delacour has kept her voice message on his phone and her clothes in their closet. The popular rising-star activist, in a town of them, was memorialized at an incendiary council meeting last month during which the measure she had opposed was ram-rodded, some say, onto the November ballot.
We noted Sasso’s fourth appearance in our Planet coverage of the fiery city council meeting last month.
Could Sasso’s presence at city council be her fourth return? Perhaps she will return whenever citizens’ rights [to sit] are threatened.
Ashes-eating might have won us an award if we had put it in the submission, but at least readers of Berkeley Reporter will have yet another lurid story, from an on-line publication, full of it. Oops!