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Kima Douglas, 1942-2013

Kima_DouglasOn January 14, Kima Douglas died in Scottsdale, Arizona after fighting a battle with pancreatic necrosis. She was 70 years old.

Nothing was reported in the local media about her passing. And except for some Facebook testaments written by friends and family, there has been little notice online that she is gone.

But Kima Douglas was well known in the world of Scientology, and spent several years caring for L. Ron Hubbard as his nurse during some of the most difficult years that he ran the organization while on the run himself.

Kima left Scientology in 1980 and then gave a rather legendary interview to Hubbard’s biographer, Russell Miller, in 1986. But after that she kept a low profile, and is remembered by friends for her kindness and caring.

We talked this morning with Jim Dincalci, who was Hubbard’s medical officer and worked with Kima on the yacht Apollo and then in locations across the country as Hubbard moved from one hiding place to another. He confirmed for us that Kima’s illness came on unexpectedly, and that for several weeks there was reason to believe that she might recover. Her death came as a shock to her family and friends.

He remembers seeing her for the first time, on the ship, in 1970. “She was gorgeous, but she was to be feared,” he says with a laugh. She got things done (“made things go right,” in the language of Scientology’s “Sea Organization”), but she would stand up to Hubbard when she saw that people needed care. “She was great medically and great with people,” Dincalci says.


Children were drawn to her, he says, in particular the Barnett sisters, Clarice and Michele, who was only about 11 when she was brought to the ship. (Michele “Shelly” Barnett would later marry David Miscavige, who leads the church today. Shelly suddenly disappeared from view and hasn’t been seen by her fellow church members since her father’s funeral in August, 2007.)

Kima’s parents had worked as British spies during the Second World War. They were rushing to get home to have her when Kima was born in Portugal on July 19, 1942. Kima then grew up in Rhodesia, where she had a pet elephant.

Kima told Miller that she had first been recruited into Scientology in California in 1968, and by 1970 when she joined Hubbard on the ship was fully under his spell… “There were wild stories that if an atomic bomb in Nevada was about to go off, L. Ron, with the power of his mind, could defuse it. The expectation was that he would be able to see into my head, which both terrified and excited me. And he’d come to save the planet. At the time we were talking about atomic warfare. Who could stop this? I was a complete believer.”

One of the most interesting periods in Scientology history happened in 1973, when Hubbard left the Apollo and spent ten months hiding out in Queens with Dincalci, then returned to the ship and had a fateful motorcycle accident on the island of Tenerife. Janet Reitman, in her book Inside Scientology, emphasized how Hubbard spent most of his time in Queens planted in front of a television, and absorbed an American culture that was somewhat alien to him. And Miller and Lawrence Wright, whose book Going Clear is now in its second printing, both ascribe a great deal of portent to the motorcycle accident, after which Hubbard never seemed to be the same.

This is how Kima described caring for Hubbard after the accident:

He broke his arm, three ribs and bruised himself to an unbelievable point. He had massive black bruises, he had really damaged himself. He refused to see a doctor. I saw him come back, walking. He went into his room and wouldn’t see anyone except messengers and [his wife] Mary Sue. Next day he saw Jim and then me. He was in his chair. We strapped his arm to him and strapped his ribs. We were in Las Palmas. We went out to sea in a Force 5 [wind]. Strapped to his chair he must have gone through agony. He screamed and hollered and yelled and slept in his chair. It was absolutely ungodly, six weeks of pure hell. Finally Laurel [Sullivan] went into town and found a doctor. She went off in Madeira and found a doctor. He came to the ship and he said what we all knew. In Lisbon we got him off and had him x-rayed but the break had already started to mend. He never went into a cast — it was too late. It took three months to heal. He was revolting to be with — a sick crotchety pissed-off old man at an extreme of antagonism to everything and everyone. His wife was often in tears. He’d scream at top of his lungs, “Get out of here!” Laurel was very good and spent a lot of time with him. Messengers went through hell. I’d go and see him every two days, to check him. He’d throw food physically with his other arm. I’d see plates splat against the bulkhead. When things got really bad I’d go and make him English scrambled eggs and toast with butter and milk and took it up well salted and peppered, I even fed him once.

Kima was also entrusted with handling Hubbard’s huge piles of cash. She relates to Miller that she was sent to Lichtenstein when Hubbard decided that he wanted the church’s money pulled out of Switzerland.

We went into a bank vault in Liechtenstein and saw a pile of money. This was in Vaduz. We were shown the piles of money….There was a stack four feet high and 3-4 wide. Big denominations, 100 dollar bills, francs and marks….I was beyond surprise. We had overreached bounds of ridiculousness with his broken arm, we were way beyond common sense. Three of us went in and there were a lot of bank people sitting there taking down numbers, making sure they had the right amount. That money was sealed, it was our money. We were there about a week and a half….Some of the money was under Hubbard’s name, I saw his bundle. Another bundle was under the Church. The Church’s was bigger but his was big too. When we saw the money everyone’s eyes widened….When we got back to the ship we saw him immediately. He wanted us to describe how big the piles were. The list of currency numbers was given to Mary Sue. He was very pleased, he thought he had outdone the Swiss.

On another mission in Madrid, part of the “Snow White” project to obtain government documents critical of Hubbard in agencies around the world, Kima and seven other Scientologists were arrested and kept in jail for about a week. One of her friends tells us that it was in that jail stay that she met Michael Douglas, who became her husband.

After the adventures at sea ended in 1975, Dincalci and Kima and Michael were with Hubbard as he moved from one place to another. From Daytona to Dunedin, Florida, to New York City, to Washington D.C., to Culver City and La Quinta, California, Dincalci and Kima fed and cared for Hubbard as Michael took care of his finances, Jim remembers.

In January 1980, Kima decided to leave Scientology. A month later, on Valentines Day, Hubbard went into hiding with Pat and Annie Broeker and would remain in seclusion until his death in 1986.

When Kima “blew” — church jargon for defecting — she initially went to stay with Robbie Levin, who tells us that Kima regaled him for days with stories about Hubbard.

Levin had become well known to Scientologists in 1968 when he and his band People! — made up of all Scientologists — had a hit record, “I Love You.” In 1969, the group joined the Sea Org after getting a handwritten note from Hubbard approving the idea. “We were the first entertainers in the Sea Org,” Robbie tells us. In the mid-1970s, Levin traded music for his burgeoning clothing business, and by 1980, he had quietly left the church when Kima came to stay with him.

She told him that in 1975 Hubbard had suffered a pulmonary embolism in Curaçao and had been taken to a hospital, and then was very sick again at La Quinta, California in 1977 but he made her promise not to call an ambulance. Dincalci and Kima had been caring for him for years, but neither of them had medical degrees. So she called in a physician who was a Scientologist, Gene Denk, who would treat Hubbard for the rest of his life.

Levin says Kima told him that Denk gave Hubbard several pads of blank prescriptions that he’d pre-signed. “Hubbard was self-prescribing drugs for himself. A lot were oral, but some were by needle,” Levin says Kima told him. “Kima was afraid to talk about it because they were declaring people,” he says, referring to Scientology’s version of excommunication, “declaring” someone a “suppressive person.” She told Levin that Hubbard was dying. “He was so wacked out because of all the drugs. He’s going to die soon, and guess who’s going to take the fall,” she told him.

Dincalci says that’s what he saw, too.

“Yes, Denk pre-signed the pads,” he says. “I would write them up and go get them.”

Dincalci says that during the Gerry Armstrong litigation in 1983, he was deposed by church attorneys, who asked him about the allegation. “I said, ‘I still have those pads from Denk,’ and then the deposition was over. They didn’t want to hear anymore,” he says.

Another detail from Hubbard’s care that we hadn’t heard before: The man’s passion for KOOL cigarettes is well known, but less well known is that Hubbard gave up KOOLs for “Picayune” brand cigarettes in an attempt to cut down on his smoking. Jon Atack recalls Kima’s account that she’d tried to help Hubbard in his goal. “I was touched by her devotion to Hubbard during her testimony. She had kept her compassion, despite ‘processing.’ I remember her saying that she felt he had a chance of better health, because he’d cut down from 120 to 100 Picayune cigarettes a day.”

Sinar Parman, meanwhile, points out that it was Kima Douglas who purchased the land that would become Scientology’s international headquarters, a 500-acre property east of Los Angeles that came to be known as “Gold Base.”

“In 1978, when LRH was shooting films, we did a location shot at this golf course, which turned out to be the base,” Parman says. “The golf course went bankrupt and was auctioned off, and Kima bought it.”

It was one of many signs that showed how much Hubbard trusted her. “She was relied on. She was a very trusted terminal, she and her husband,” he says.

After Kima left Scientology and then gave her interview to Miller in 1986, she kept a low profile. She and Michael moved to Hawaii, but then in July, 2003 he died of cancer. Kima’s friends tell us she never really recovered from it.

Robbie Levin sent us this photograph from last year, at a wedding of his goddaughter. In the photograph with Kima and Levin is Robbie’s fiance, Julie Williams…


We’ve reached out to more of Kima’s old coworkers and friends, and we’ll add more remembrances when they come in.


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 26, 2013 at 15:20


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