Article Originally appeared in the New York Times, March 3, 2011.
by Frank Bruni
I got the feeling that part of what pushes him toward 125 is the sheer challenge. Years are yet another thing to collect, and he likes racking up accomplishments others haven’t. He bragged to me several times about once transplanting a centuries-old tree larger than any ever successfully moved. And he drew my attention to scores of massive, oddly shaped boulders from Thailand’s River Kwai that decorate the grounds of the ranch, the residence where he spends most of his time (he sold the former Hilton estate 10 years ago). Each weighs several tons; he brought over six shiploads.
“These are the only boulders that ever left Thailand,” he says. “You can’t take them out now.”
He says that he still gets pleasure from them, and from much of the rest of his gilded life, and that he doesn’t know what, if anything, comes after.
“There have been billions of people born and billions of people died, and people think God’s going to be standing at the gate ready to shake hands with everybody who’s coming through?”he says.
Although he is a churchgoing Christian, death, he concedes, could simply be blackness, nullity.
During my last visit with him, Murdock took me out to see the koi. He enjoys tossing them their pellets of food from the red wood bridge that arches over the lake, and in particular delights in the way he merely has to stamp his feet to make them come swimming toward the bridge in a frenzy, eager for sustenance from on high.
“You want to know what I like and what makes me happy?” he said as we stood on the bridge.
“Just having these fish makes me happy. Every one is alive because of me.”
He pointed out that some were ordinary and some magnificent — just like people, he said — and told me that after a female releases her eggs, she tries to ward off lesser males, so stronger ones fertilize them.
“It’s the survival of the fittest in all aspects of the world.”
We began tossing out pellets by the handful. He told me that I wasn’t using enough muscle and showed me how it was done. Then he frowned. The koi, he said, weren’t lunging and thrashing. Had someone fed them too recently? Was someone feeding them too often? He vowed to look into it, declaiming the same
fault in the fish that he finds in so many of the planet’s inhabitants.
“They’re not eating the way I like them to,” he said.