We explore some of the San Diego suicide cult's coincidental connections to pop culture

By A.J. Jacobs and Anna Holmes
April 18, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

The very name has Hollywood overtones. ”Heaven’s Gate,” the most recent moniker used by the San Diego suicide cult, was also the title of a slightly less serious tragedy: the notorious 1980 mega-flop Michael Cimino movie starring Kris Kristofferson. A bizarre coincidence, to be sure, but that’s not pop culture’s only connection to the self-massacre discovered March 26. Herewith, a look at some others:

— A former cult member told CNN that the 1985 movie Cocoon had inspired the group to move to Galveston, Tex., where they bought a houseboat so they could go out and ”maybe be picked up.”

— Investigators found a list of approved and forbidden videos for the final week. Films that were allowed included Eddie, Chain Reaction, and The Frighteners. Among the verboten: Multiplicity, Goldeneye, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. According to ledgers, the members also recently went to see Secrets & Lies.

— Among the victims was Thomas Nichols, brother of Nichelle Nichols, better known as Star Trek‘s Lieutenant Uhura.

— On CNN’s Capital Gang, panelist Mona Charen said the cult was strongly influenced by a tonal system of communication, a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

— San Diego medical examiner Brian Blackbourne observed that a picture of an alien that sat on the cult’s mantelpiece ”looked like The X-Files.”

— Two recent episodes of Fox’s dark thriller Millennium featured eerily familiar plots about cult suicide. A spokeswoman for Fox says there are no plans to rerun either episode any time soon. But, she adds, ”we haven’t set our summer schedule yet.”

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