In July 2016, Betsy Davis invited 30 of her closest friends and family to a weekend party at a house in southern California.
The invitation read: These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness, and openness.
She also noted the party’s one firm rule: No crying in front of her.
You see, in 2013, the 41-year-old artist was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is incurable and affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Betsy was losing all control of her body as it gradually shut down — and so, she decided to hold this gathering as a joyous way to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs.
Yes, this two-day party would be full of fun and laughter but would culminate in Betsy’s suicide.
The idea was hard to grasp for Betsy’s loved ones, but as you’ll see below, Betsy was about to give her “final performance” just the way she wanted to.
In July 2016, Betsy Davis, 41, emailed 30 friends and family members to invite them to a two-day party. “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness, and openness,” the invitation read.
The party had one rule, and one rule only: No crying in front of Betsy.
That’s because the talented artist was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and her body was shutting down. The planned weekend was a way for Betsy to say goodbye before taking a lethal dose of drugs as prescribed by her doctor.
Betsy shared the weekend’s detailed schedule with her guests, along with the precise hour she planned to slip into a coma.
It was a difficult decision to attend the party, as you can imagine, but Betsy’s loved ones wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
More than 30 people came from all across the country to spend two days at a gorgeous mountainside home in southern California.
Guests played instruments, they imbibed, they ate pizza from Betsy’s favorite restaurant, and watched screenings of her favorite movies.
Loved ones say the painter and performance artist, pictured above at a 2006 Getty Center staging, turned her death into a “final performance.”
After gradually losing control of her body, Davis felt a rush of empowerment. She spent months planning her final exit.
She would become one of the first residents of California to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state’s new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill.
During the party, Betsy’s caretakers translated her speech for the guests, as it was slurred because of her condition.
But Betsy was able to roll her electric wheelchair throughout the house, making sure to spend quality time with each of her guests.
Guests were also invited to take home a “Betsy souvenir,” like a piece of artwork, accessory, or beauty product. Her sister placed sticky notes on each item, explaining their significance.
Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from NYC, was also at the party. He snapped these photos to capture the precious moments. “For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her,” he said.
“In the background of the lovely fun, smiles, and laughter that we had, that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming.”
At the end of the weekend, everyone gathered for a photo and said their goodbyes. Betsy was wheeled out to a canopy bed on the hillside, wearing a kimono she bought in 2013 after being diagnosed.
At 6:45 p.m., Betsy watched her last sunset and took a lethal combination of drugs prescribed by her doctor. She was surrounded by her caretaker, doctor, massage therapist, and sister.
Four hours later, Betsy died.
“What Betsy did gave her the most beautiful death that any person could ever wish for,” said one of her friends. “By taking charge, she turned her departure into a work of art.”
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