Upstairs in a beige church on McKinley Street in Hollywood, a 60-year-old with a full head of dark hair launches into a PowerPoint presentation full of big ideas and a bigger vocabulary.
He completed a program at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, figuring that "with my mortician's license, I could cryopreserve."
First, Bill Faloon gives a shoutout to Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. "We need to put a pedestal up for him," Faloon argues. He moves on to slides about Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, a 19th-century Russian librarian who believed that man's common task is to bring the dead back to life and unite all of humanity; he is the "prophet" of the church. Faloon then tells the crowd that "cellular senescence," when mature cells stop reproducing, is the root cause of physical aging. If scientists could only prevent this, people could stay young forever.
"I never accepted death as being inevitable," Faloon says in a business-like tone. "Technology will advance to the point where death is rather optional."
The pews are sprinkled with about 60 people: middle-aged women, friends from a libertarian meetup group, and gray-haired couples intrigued by an ad for the church that had run in the obituary section of the daily paper. Cameramen from Vice News duck down in the aisles, filming Faloon for an episode that's likely to air in the fall. Faloon's family is here: his lanky 18- and 20-year-old sons as well as his blond wife, Debra, who is 58 but looks downright girlish in high heels and a floral dress, a hot-pink flower in her hair.
In 2013, Faloon and his longtime business partner, Saul Kent, bought, for $880,000, this building just north of downtown Hollywood that had formerly housed a Baptist congregation. They founded the Church of Perpetual Life, which hosts once-a-month meetings with a guest speaker and a social hour. Establishing the church is just the latest bold step in the duo's lifelong mission of trying to extend human lifespans.
Faloon and Kent are controversial figures in a controversial field. The so-called "immortalist" movement encompasses strategies of "life extension," from taking vitamins to receiving organ transplants. It also includes cryonics, the idea that corpses can be cooled to extremely low temperatures and someday, somehow, be returned to life.
For their work, Faloon and Kent have been both hailed as visionaries and derided as snake-oil salesmen. They've been raided by the feds and thrown in jail for importing unapproved drugs. They've bankrolled a slew of curious cryonics projects, from the freezing of dogs to experiments in an underground house. Kent even had his own mother's head detached and cryopreserved, then had to fend off a murder investigation. Now, they're battling the IRS over the foundation's tax-exempt status.
None of this seems to bother Faloon much. A huge round of investment from the global 1 percent is now bringing immortalist ideas out of the realm of science fiction. Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal; Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius Radio; and Sergey Brin, CEO of Google, are just a few of the ultrarich who have recently begun to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into life-extension endeavors. Death, they are betting, is a scientific problem that can be solved.
Says Faloon: "What I had hoped would happen in 1977 is finally happening in 2015."