Michael Zuk, the man who bought John Lennon's tooth - interview
Michael Zuk bought Lennon's tooth for $31,000 in November 2011. Here he reveals his remarkable plans for the artefact
Paul Fraser Collectibles, Friday 11 May 2012
When Michael Zuk bought John Lennon's tooth for £19,500 ($31,000) in November, it made headlines around the globe.
But little did we know the plans the Canadian dentist had for the unusual piece of Beatles memorabilia.
Will the world be full of cloned John Lennons in years to come? Michael reveals more in this exclusive interview.
PFC: What made the Lennon tooth such a "must have" for you? Did you see it as an investment?
MZ: The John Lennon tooth quest was one of those moments when you say to yourself... 'I know almost everyone is going to say you're insane, but this could be the one big opportunity that can be turned into some massive'.
I saw it as a huge marketing opportunity. As a guy who bills himself as the "UnCosmetic Dentist" and professes to be a fringe marketing expert and author it was the perfect thing to add to my life. On a personal note we had just lost two members of my wife's family and things were pretty gloomy, so this gave me a new spark which in turn helped get myself out of a dark time.
PFC: Can you describe your emotions as you were bidding for it? How did it feel when you won?
MZ: I was up all night, thinking I want to get this silly tooth... my mind kept wondering what would be the most I should pay. I knew the marketing exposure would be 10 million times whatever the fee was, so by the time I got on the phone to bid I was ready to battle. My feeling was if outbid I would regret not doing whatever it took to win for the rest of my life.
When my rep at the auction said I won, it was like being Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch. I felt it was a lottery win... just like Cruise felt about being in love with Katie.
PFC: What has the tooth been up to since you bought it?
MZ: We arranged a professional photo shoot and have a series of photographs called "Rot Star Art" which may be in a high level competition. The tooth made a few appearances including one on a national morning news show called Canada AM.
Then I contacted Ari Soffer in LA who designs jewellery for rock stars and Beverly Hills Housewives and we co-designed a John Lennon DNA pendant that is very cool.
I have taken a few small fragments [of the tooth] to be used in the pendants.
The first one may go on tour with a group of dentists in the UK and help raise some money for a charity called Smile Train (cleft lip and palate repairs for children).
At this point we are exploring the idea of working with a DNA sequencing company to record the full genome of John Lennon. I still need to finish the paperwork on the Guinness Record application for the most expensive human tooth!
PFC: Can you tell us more about the pendants?
MZ: My wife loves watching those spoiled housewives on TV and she was crazy about a pendant that one of the women was wearing, so I wanted to cheer her up so I splurged on one for her...then thought this designer could be perfect to work with on my DNA pendant idea.
A few conversations and the project came to life. There will only be a very few of a couple designs, the cost ranges from about $1,200 to close to $10,000.
A portion of the fee will be donated to my chosen charity Smile Train, and there are links to the jewels from JohnLennonDNA.com or Ari Soffer's website (SofferAri.com).
As a side note, my sister Kirsten Zuk, who is a sculptor in Edmonton, will be doing a couple of works of John Lennon with some of his DNA inside so this is going to be an extremely unique project. Years ago she did one of the Beatles which was really cool.
PFC: What do you say to people who think you should be keeping important artefacts such as this whole?
MZ: I don't want to break the tooth into a million small pieces, just a few grains will be used for this ceremonial tribute. It is also impossible to keep it untouched during the DNA investigation and I wanted to have a way of multiplying the tooth into different forms in case the original disappeared.
Most of the tooth will remain intact through this whole journey.
PFC: Who's next on your list of famous teeth to collect or are you stopping with Lennon? Is there a dream tooth you'd like to own?
MZ: I guess a person could go on and on, but certain people like Tom Cruise would be fun to collect since we share a birthday... We both turn 50 on July 3 this year, and he has a popular smile that dentists like to dissect.
Jimmy Hendrix was another rock icon that would have phenomenal appeal. Howard Hughes was a character, and a Houdini tooth would be nice too. While doing a radio interview with a station out of Boston I was offered Shaquille O'Neal's tooth for a small fee (I passed on the deal), I may have missed the chance to use it to set up a paternity testing company, which is a spin-off of owning a person's DNA.
PFC: What do your patients make of your collection? For that matter, what does your family think?
MZ: Patients always are joking about the weird hobby and are pretty amazed at all the publicity. I have some photos in the office so they get their fill of my obsessions. My family had mixed feelings, from my daughter's "you could have bought me a new car instead" to "that's cool...you are on Anderson Cooper's Ridiculist!"
It has led to some offers to be on a favourite TV show, to being a speaker at dental meetings, to being a contributing writer... so maybe this "celebrity tooth collector" thing was the smartest thing I ever did.
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