Afamily affair

Mikal Gilmore talks to Ann Donald about the dysfunctional family that spawned his brother Gary.

In January 1977 Gary Gilmore was shot to death by a firing squad in Draper. Utah. Not only did this act assure him of a seat in the 20th century hall of infamy. but his life and death inspired Norman Mailer‘s novel The Executioner 's Song. a TV movie and the song Looking Through (Jory Gilmore '3 Eyes by punk band The Adverts.

His story became intcmational news, not because he murdered two Mormons. but because his subsequent execution restored capital punishment to the American conscience after an absence of ten years. A media circus sprang up around this articulate man who actively campaigned to end his own life. embraced ‘the darkness beyond' and assumed the warped role of killer as media superstar.

Shot In The Heart one family '5 history in murder is Mikal Gilmorc's personal story of the ultimate dysfunctional family. ‘The whole fucking tragedy.‘ as Gilmore describes it, makes for a stark but riveting book.

He was driven to write it, he explains

because, ‘My life. like those of my brothers had come to a place that felt like intense hopelessness.‘

The Gilmores were a white trash family from Oregon mother was prone to bouts of madness and unpredictability while father was a drinker and petty criminal who

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believed he was the illegitimate son of lloudini. He too was prone to bouts of brutality and beat his wife and sons. often until they bled. For Mikal. Gary's descent into the criminal world at fourteen seems a somewhat natural evolution, given his devastating home life. ‘Given the continual brutality and constant rejection that Gary had to



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endure . . . too many forces went into making him an unavoidable accident.’ says Mikal.

()ne of the most powerful aspects of the book is Mikal‘s ability to debunk the myth of the killer as a glamorous entity. Though much was made of Gary's rnordant wit. his artistic ability and predilection for Shelley. Mikal has no titne for those voycurs preoccupied with the machinations of a killer‘s mind.

‘There is a very. very old need to make a celebrity or anti-hero of a killer.‘ he says. "There‘s always been a fascination and disgust with people who commit these crimes because these people are enacting the impulses that society cannot and should not enact at large. There‘s also a vicarious thrill of getting as close as you can to something dangerous and deadly without really letting it into your life. The truth is. if you do, it loses all its romance. It‘s a very ugly. devastating and heartbreaking thing and you wish you‘d never gotten close to it.’

For Rolling Stone writer Mikal, the book has been a cathartic exercise tip to a point. Though there are remaining family demons to be exorciscd. one of the most beneficial aspects of uncovering a fatnin history that he had once taken pains to distance himself from, was a renewed relationship with his elder brother Frank. ‘This bond with Frank is as close to peace of mind as I could ask for,‘ he says with resignation.

Shot In The Heart by Mikul (ii/more is published by Viking at [16.


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78 The List 15—28 July 1994