Bobby Fischer's final bizarre act
From U.K. source, the Telegraph
The American chess prodigy's eccentricities didn't end with his death. As Neil Tweedie discovered in Reykjavik this week, the reclusive genius had arranged his own secret 'guerrilla' burial. Now its legality is being questioned
The grave was dug in secret as darkness descended over the white frozen landscape around the village of Hraungerdi, ready for Bobby Fischer's last getaway. Not even the minister whose churchyard it was knew of the funeral planned for the following morning.
Marriage mate: Miyoko Watai
Only five people attended the brief service early on Monday, conducted in the half-light before the short Icelandic day had properly begun. Among them was Gardar Sverrisson, Fischer's closest friend of the last few years and the man who had organised the digging of the grave without seeking the permission of Iceland's Lutheran Church or of the state authorities.
Sverrisson had also secured the services of a Roman Catholic priest from Reykjavik, some 30 miles to the west. Fischer was not a Catholic but must have been content with the arrangement - Sverrisson would have followed the American's instructions to the letter. The fifth mourner may or may not have been Fischer's wife, a Japanese woman named Miyoko Watai.
So much about Bobby Fischer was a mystery. He liked it that way, keeping people guessing. No way would the fallen angel of world chess have allowed the media a feeding frenzy. Hence the unauthorised "guerrilla" funeral uncovered by the Telegraph this week; a strange secret end to a strange secret life.
Bobby Fischer was 64 when he died last week of kidney failure - one year on earth for each square on a chessboard. Arguably the greatest chess player ever, he ended his life as a recluse, obsessed about his privacy, trusting in virtually no one. Subject to bouts of paranoia, he was vehemently anti-Semitic and convinced the CIA was out to get him. But he was also capable of kindness, gentleness and humour, and commanded loyalty among those who knew him.
He was an exile, too, a fugitive sought by the US government (he had broken sanctions against playing chess in Milosevic's Yugoslavia) but protected by the tiny country that had offered him a passport and a haven. His death made headlines around the world. There was much that Fischer kept to himself: his marriage, if marriage it was, and his daughter, a little girl living far away in the Philippines who may inherit all or part of his still considerable fortune.
The manner of his burial is now the subject of controversy in Iceland, an intimate society of just 300,000 people. Some of Fischer's friends believe the burial is unlawful. If Miss Watai was not his wife, they argue, then she and Sverrisson had no right to carry out the burial without seeking the permission of his estate's legal representatives. There is the additional matter of money: Fischer's Swiss bank account is thought to have held about £1.5 million, and there may be more in gold deposits.
Kristinn Fridfinnson is the Lutheran minister in Hraungerdi. He first knew that Fischer had become a permanent resident of his graveyard through the local media.
"I didn't believe it at first," he says, standing in the still cold air of the small church. "No one had asked my permission. It was a great surprise. Maybe it was a mistake to bring him here, so far from where he lived, but we are honoured to have him here now. The great Bobby Fischer."
Most of Fischer's public life is well documented, but his final years in Iceland are less well-known. Icelanders pride themselves on not being seduced by celebrity, preferring to leave famous visitors in peace. Fischer arrived in March 2005 and found a haven in Reykjavik, where he was supported by a small circle of friends. Some have broken their silence for the first time to talk of Fischer.
"Bobby could be such fun," said Einar Einarsson, one of those who helped get him into Iceland. "I remember him singing My Way as I drove him in the car. He could be gentle and kind, particularly to children. In many ways he was a quite normal person. But there was always that dark side - he believed that dark forces were out to get him."
Was he mad?
''I think that he was an angry man rather than a mad man."
Mr Einarsson was upset by his exclusion from Fischer's funeral and is concerned about its legality.
Saemi Palsson was another close friend. Fischer's police bodyguard during the Spassky match in 1972, he remained in contact with the chess player and was central to securing his release from custody in Japan, after he was arrested by immigration officials. He retains a great affection for the maverick American but admits to being disturbed by some of his more unpalatable views.
"Bobby was a genius, he could have been a great doctor, scientist - anything. But he was not emotionally intelligent - he didn't know how to behave with people. He did not trust many people. He did not trust doctors and that is why he did not want treatment for his condition."
Fischer's life in Reykjavik was a simple one. He was to be seen in the coffee shops and book stores of the Icelandic capital's bohemian quarter, reading and avoiding eye contact. In particular, he frequented the Bokin bookshop, which he would visit twice a week, occupying for hours a chair set aside especially for him in the corner. He devoured everything from history to biography, and was also fond of reading Dennis the Menace comic books imported for him from the US. People asking for autographs were greeted with stern silence.
Fischer's need for privacy was all consuming. Often he would arrive late at a restaurant so as to avoid unwelcome attention. But he was also to be spotted dining with friends, enjoying jokes.
His mercurial streak never left him, though. Friends fell in and out of favour depending on whim. Speaking to the media was a capital offence requiring immediate exclusion from his circle. And there was always potential for the explosive, irrational rant.
Miss Watai was based in Japan but visited Iceland frequently, especially as Fischer's health began to fail, doing his laundry and tending to him at his apartment in the capital. Some in the Fischer circle refer to Miss Watai merely as a "friend" of Fischer. The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik encouraged speculation about the couple's marital status this week when a spokesman questioned the validity of their civil wedding ceremony in Japan, alleging it may have been unlawful because of Fischer's lack of a valid passport at that time.
But another friend of Fischer came to Miss Watai's defence. She told the Telegraph: "There is simply no question that Miyoko was the closest person to Bobby and by far the most special person in his life. She is a woman of absolute integrity who will undoubtedly ensure his daughter is taken care of, should she inherit his estate. She met Bobby in the 1970s and there was probably a relationship from that time. She was passionate about him and is devastated by his death. She promised never to betray his confidences and she will observe that promise."
Robert James Fischer was a phenomenon. There has probably never been a more talented chess player. US junior champion at 13 and a grandmaster at 15, his winning streak of 21 games at top level will probably never be equalled. When so many players aimed for the draw, he went for the throat. He didn't beat opponents, he annihilated them.
Good-looking in his youth, and with a taste for sharp suits, he was saleable in a way that other chess players could only dream of, commanding multimillion-dollar offers in exchange for appearances. But he was mercurial and prone to anger.
It was in Iceland in 1972 that he attained worldwide notoriety, playing in the world championship against Boris Spassky. The match was a metaphor for the Cold War: American kid versus the might of the Soviet chess machine.
It would be 20 years before he played again. In the meantime, he descended into a kind of madness, donating money to a pseudo-religion promising Christ's return in 1975 and developing a loathing for Jews. That his mother Regina was Jewish mattered not. Fischer may even have had a Jewish father, a Hungarian scientist who had an affair with his mother. His legally recognised father, a German-born scientist, left home when his only son was two.
In 1992, a multimillion-dollar pot lured him back into the limelight, again against Spassky in a tournament in Milosevic's Yugoslavia, then the subject of US sanctions. From then on he was an exile, circling the globe. While in the Philippines he met a young woman called Justine. In 2000 she gave birth to a daughter, who could now inherit his estate.
Fischer took to the radio to denounce the US and Israel. The rant celebrating 9/11 was the last straw. In 2003 the US retaliated by revoking his passport. In 2004 Fischer was arrested at Tokyo airport and detained for eight months. It was then that he is said to have married Miyoko, president of the Japanese chess federation. Shortly after, Iceland granted him citizenship and he was released.
Lilja Gretarsdottir, president of the Icelandic chess federation, explains: "Icelanders have always had a soft spot for outlaws. It goes back to the sagas.
"Fischer was exiled from America but he was always an American - in his manner, everything. I think he must have found it hard to know that he could not return to his country."
In the churchyard at Hraungerdi yesterday, the red and white roses on Bobby Fischer's grave appeared as fresh as the day they were laid down upon it, frozen by the cutting Arctic wind. Driving snow obscured the last resting place of the most celebrated exponent of the art of chess.
The press didn't get their feeding frenzy. To the end, Bobby Fischer did it His Way.