The recently published book, “Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall, and Future of America’s Original Ruling Class,” explores the scandalous lives of 15 prominent families. It is a raw and unfiltered exposé that pulls back the glamorous façade of the upper crust. One particular story that stands out involves Whitney Tower Jr., an heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes. His descent into a world of debauchery and drug addiction serves as a cautionary tale for those born into privilege.
Whitney Tower Jr.’s story begins during his time at boarding school, where he first experimented with cocaine at the tender age of 17. As he progressed into college, he found himself surrounded by the children of other wealthy families, such as the Mercks and the General Foods heirs. Together, they formed a clique of affluent troublemakers, aptly dubbed the “little rascals of the jet set.” This initial exposure to a life of excess and indulgence set the stage for Whitney’s downward spiral.
By the late 1970s, Whitney Tower Jr. had fully immersed himself in New York City’s notorious late-night scene. Rubbing shoulders with icons like John Phillips, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol, he quickly succumbed to the allure of harder drugs. Whitney’s addiction even reached a point where he injected drugs while attending a family funeral at the home of Gloria Vanderbilt. In a bizarre encounter, he reportedly asked First Lady Nancy Reagan for inspiration behind her “Just Say No” campaign. These reckless actions demonstrated the depths to which his addiction had taken hold.
Despite attempting to establish stable relationships, Whitney Tower Jr.’s marriage to a Texas oil heir, Pamela Franzheim, was marred by their shared heroin addiction. Their honeymoon in Thailand was a haze of drug use and seclusion within their hotel room. Eventually, Franzheim overcame her addiction, obtaining a Ph.D., and ending the marriage. In contrast, Whitney continued his destructive path, going through rehab numerous times and squandering away a staggering $1.5 million. He resorted to stealing family heirlooms for money and was ultimately cut off from his trust fund.
Whitney Tower Jr.’s journey is one of resilience and eventual redemption. After surviving a heart attack at the age of 51, he managed to turn his life around. He remarried, got sober, and found solace in helping others battle addiction as a drug counselor. However, his struggles persisted, as he found himself in an assisted living community in Florida following a severe car accident that fractured his back. Despite his fall from grace, he maintains a sense of humor, acknowledging the irony of a relative having a psychiatric clinic named after him.
The story of Whitney Tower Jr. serves as a stark warning to America’s privileged elite. It exposes the dangers of unchecked indulgence and the devastating consequences of addiction. It is a reminder that money and social standing do not guarantee happiness or immunity to the perils of substance abuse. As society grapples with issues of wealth inequality, this cautionary tale prompts a reevaluation of the privileged lifestyle and questions the notion of inherited superiority.
“Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall, and Future of America’s Original Ruling Class,” sheds light on the hidden dark side of the upper echelons of society. By exposing the missteps and struggles of individuals like Whitney Tower Jr., society is forced to confront the rose-tinted image of the elite. It is a call to action for introspection and a reminder that everyone, regardless of their background, is susceptible to the dangers of excess and addiction.