Red Hot Heartbreak

Rick Sealock

Dick Quinn was in a cranky mood on October 20, 1978. The 42-year-old had survived a heart attack and bypass surgery six months earlier, but to him it seemed his recovery was not going well. He had no energy, no verve, no spunk. He often found himself weak, stumbling into magazine racks while walking through drugstores. Now his cardiologist at St. Mary's Hospital in Minneapolis, who'd been telling him that he was doing fine, just fine, had grown exasperated with Quinn's complaints. As Quinn would later

recall, the doctor finally told him: "What do you expect? They took your heart out of your chest, stopped it, cut it, and sewed on it. You can't expect it to run right."

That was the day Quinn decided to liberate himself from the confines of traditional medical care. He had bumped into an acquaintance a few months earlier who'd told him, "You look terrible. You need Capsicum--cayenne red pepper." At the time, Quinn had dismissed the suggestion as "some weird voodoo medicine idea," as heresy being proffered by a "leftover from the '60s." But now he thought back to her words, and drove directly to the general store in Somerset, Wis., where he bought a 69-cent can of Fairway-brand cayenne pepper. Once home, he emptied some capsules from an old prescription in the medicine cabinet, filled three with the pepper, and swallowed them.

Nothing happened until the next morning, when Quinn awoke animated with renewed energy. "I have never gone back to the doctor," Quinn would later write in his memoir. "He has nothing for me." For the next 16 years, he eschewed prescription drugs and mainstream medicine in favor of his own self-styled herbal remedies for cardiovascular health: "Every single day I bet my life on Cayenne. I put all my chips on it."

For his heart, and eventually for his livelihood. During the 1980s Quinn ran a direct-mail business in uptown Minneapolis with partner Charles Langley, who would later become his son-in-law. Quinn had always been a freelance writer, scripting text for direct-mail pitches, catalog copy, and the like. His breezy style of writing and his easygoing, gregarious personality made him a natural for the business. And he possessed an independent, entrepreneurial spirit: Back in the '60s, he'd operated a little business selling South American squirrel monkeys through the mail. Quinn's promotional instincts were second nature, but he didn't find the perfect pitch until the idea of selling cayenne capsules to the ailing public hit him. "He wanted to start telling his story about heart disease

because he thought it was terribly important," Langley recalls. "I think he thought it was his life's mission, that this was what he was put on Earth to do."

Beginning with the launch of Heart Foods Company in Minneapolis a decade after his 1978 epiphany, Quinn created, built, and nurtured his own cottage industry out of nothing more than the finely ground cayenne powder he funneled by hand into pill capsules; a short six years later, the company had sold more than $1 million in herbal supplements. He eventually cast himself in the role of evangelist, extolling, on the U.S. circuit of alternative health conventions and in print, the wonders of the fiery herb that he believed saved, or at least extended beyond all expectations, his life.

Unlike his previous stints writing ad copy for others, Quinn became his own product: His pitch was his story and his convictions about the curative powers of cayenne. Along the way Quinn helped both his closest friend and his eldest son to start their own cayenne-based enterprises, so that even before his death in September 1995, there were four separate and thriving companies--three pepper-peddling outfits and one publishing operation--all inextricably linked to his beat-the-odds life story.

With sales of his cayenne products at more than $250,000 annually, he left family to run Heart Foods in 1992 and continued his empire-building by penning a self-published memoir, Left for Dead--so titled because Quinn believed that's what the medical establishment had done to him. In the chatty, 200-page paperback--which to date has sold, by conservative estimates, some 120,000 copies, at $12.95 each--Quinn described his close call with death, railed against conventional medicine and doctors, and lauded the beneficial effects of herbs--cayenne prime among them.

According to Left for Dead, Quinn started every day with four cayenne capsules; when he found himself fatigued, he popped another and discovered that he could "get a nice lift in about ten minutes." As for his diet, he claimed, "I eat what I like and don't worry about it. Cayenne keeps my arteries clean and helps me control my weight by raising my metabolism." To treat hemorrhoids, he advised a concoction of raw potato and liquid vitamin E. Or cayenne. Quinn was such a cayenne devotee, he wrote, "I have also sprinkled some cayenne in my stockings as extra protection on especially cold winter days in Minnesota."  

Quinn would devote the rest of his life to promoting his autobiography on dozens of radio shows and in hundreds of live appearances across the country, generating a faithful following as enamored of the five-alarm fix as he. Mention the cayenne cure in alternative health circles today, and Quinn's name is sure to be invoked, often in reverent tones. But while he exalted the healing effects of herbs, there is no counsel in Left for Dead that's been able to salve the wounds that have festered since Quinn's death at age 59. Acrimony and lawsuits have erupted between his family and friends--both inside and outside the courtroom--largely turning on questions of who stands to profit from the lucrative legacy of Dick Quinn and who has the right to trade on his good name.

Heart Foods, now headed by Quinn's second ex-wife Paula, sued Quinn Naturals Inc., run by Quinn's son Foley, and the Cayenne Trading Company, owned by Quinn's old friend Al Watson, for three-quarters of a million dollars plus damages, hoping to stop her competitors from using Quinn's name to help sell their products. And Quinn's daughter Shannon, now president of the R.F. Quinn Publishing Company, sued Watson in 1997, charging that he had looted nearly $1 million from her father's book company to bankroll his own pepper operation; that suit has dragged the late Quinn's family and friends through 20 months in federal court and has yet to be settled, in part because Quinn's style of bookkeeping was, without question, chaotic.

Though of one mind about little else, all the warring parties (except Shannon) agree that were he alive today, Quinn would be heartbroken over the costly legal imbroglios that have flared up in the wake of his passing. His son Colin says, "I think he probably would want everyone to be successful and happy, and if they could do that using him but not cheapening him, he would be okay with that. He was very much a live-and-let-live person." Son Foley says, simply, that the King of Cayenne would be sick with disgust.


The wind-blasted prairie of northwestern Minnesota doesn't immediately seem a hotbed of cayenne-fueled herbalism, but it's home to Sebeka, Al Watson's hometown. After Dick Quinn's death, Watson moved his Cayenne Trading Company here, some 170 miles from the Twin Cities, to a sunny little storefront on Minnesota Avenue between Ma's Country Cafe and the offices of the Review Messenger newspaper.

There are signs of Quinn everywhere in this former drugstore: A display of herbal and health books includes both Left for Dead and its posthumous sequel, Death by Deception; a slew of articles and photos featuring Quinn plaster the walls. Pill bottles line the shelves behind the counter, including the red-labeled "very hot" concoction called Cayenne King.

There's also Quinn's Blend All-in-One--the only Cayenne Trading product to carry the Quinn name--a mix of cayenne, garlic, and hawthorn. Those capsules, like the company's other products, come straight from the back room, where two workers dressed in white lab coats and surgical masks are siphoning rust-red powder from plastic drums into tiny capsules.

Watson says this is how Dick Quinn would have wanted it. "The purpose of Cayenne Trading was to sell cayenne to people who bought the book," he says, referring to Left for Dead. In fact, Watson says the 1993 genesis of his company was Quinn's brainchild: "It was his idea to start Cayenne Trading, not mine." Quinn himself sold the company's first order.

The 49-year-old Watson, with his glasses, curly brown hair, and mustache, looks like a well-groomed ex-hippie, clad in a green oxford shirt. He periodically launches himself from his chair in the front window to grab a nearby copy of Left for Dead, flipping through it to find a passage that underscores a point. "It's all he talked about: cayenne," Watson says of his late friend and mentor.

Dick Quinn hatched the idea of selling cayenne to the public in 1988, after a decade of self-prescribed pill-popping. At the same time, he found that he'd built up a tolerance to the stuff, and was driven to seek more potent daily doses: "I kept looking for stronger and stronger Cayenne. It was keeping me alive, and I wanted all the energy I could get," he would write. That search lead him to the African Birdseye pepper, reputedly the hottest member of the cayenne family. Quinn ultimately devised a recipe that mixed the African Birdseye with cayenne from India, as well as ginger and lecithin, which he believed eased the impact of the peppers on the stomach. Left for Dead features a photo of Quinn in his kitchen, white surgical mask over his face, hovering over a garbage bag-covered kettle, cooking up his original, high-fuel "Power Caps."  

With that, Quinn founded the Heart Foods Company and set up his first production line in the living room of his Minneapolis apartment; his then-girlfriend Paula would grind the herbs while he and his buddy Watson would fill the capsules by hand. He had his eye on a capsule-filling machine, but couldn't afford it--nor could he afford advertising for his product line, which soon included the cayenne-spiked Power Caps (which Quinn dubbed "my mean old junkyard dog"), Thinking Caps (a mental stimulant containing gotu kola and gingko biloba), Happy Caps (with valerian, catnip, and cayenne), and Night Caps (with valerian and passionflower).

The product names were pure Quinn: pithy, catchy. At one point, he marketed Gas Caps for nausea. Other product ideas never came to fruition; his daughter Kelly Quinn recalls with laughter, "He wanted to do Knee Caps for arthritis."

Initial sales of the products hardly suggested that Quinn was building an empire. According to Left for Dead, in November and December of 1989, the company's receipts amounted to about $150 a month. That began to change after he ran an ad in the Swanson Health Catalog in January 1990; the ad immediately generated $7,700 in orders. Soon after company headquarters moved to South Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood, sales began to climb. By the following January, Quinn was peddling $30,000 worth of herbal remedies every month. His sense of timing, it seemed, was perfect: The founding of Heart Foods coincided with a burgeoning national interest in herbs, minerals, and vitamins--from ginseng to ginkgo biloba to St. John's wort. The Bellevue, Wash.-based Hartman Group, an industry market-research firm, estimates last year's sales for dietary supplements in the U.S. at $10 billion and growing, as many mainstream pharmaceutical companies follow their alternative-medicine cousins into the market. According to Hartman's figures, cayenne-related products now account for 0.3 percent of supplement sales.

But as the popularity of the capsules rose, so did scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency objected to the health claims Quinn was making about his products in the company's advertisements, and in 1991 banned the sale of Night Caps and Gas Caps. (Under current federal law governing dietary supplements, manufacturers are forbidden from making claims that their product can "cure" anything.) With his company and his vision under attack, Quinn sought to press his cayenne proselytizing to another level. And since the FDA held that he couldn't legally preach about the medical benefits of cayenne while selling the capsules, the solution seemed clear to Quinn: Leave Heart Foods and write a book about his pepper-powered victory over death.

On March 8, 1992, Quinn convened a meeting of the entire board of directors of Heart Foods: Dick Quinn. A memo outlines his resignation from the company, a $5,000 severance payment, and the guarantee that "He will receive free Caps for his own personal consumption as long as is needed." It also granted Heart Foods exclusive rights to the use of formulas he'd concocted for a host of products: Cayenne Blend, Power Caps, Heart Food Caps, Night Time Caps, Tick Attack, Skeeter Skatter, and others. Finally, Quinn granted the company ownership of the names of the products.

Quinn simultaneously transferred 51 percent ownership of Heart Foods to his then-wife Paula, and 19 percent each to Watson and to Quinn's son Foley, both of whom were working for Heart Foods at the time. The remaining 11 percent was divided among his other four children. While the division wasn't exactly equitable, it reflected Quinn's bedrock beliefs in the idea of keeping business primarily in the family. Still, the logic by which he divvied up the company set the stage for defections from Heart Foods and the subsequent legal squabbling about just who had the right to use Quinn's story to promote their products.

According to Watson, Quinn had told him once that he would be turning the company over to him and Foley Quinn. "He hadn't discussed the stock, but he had told us that we would be running the company," says Watson, who claims that Paula Quinn hadn't been involved much in the day-to-day operation of the company prior to March 1992. Foley, who'd been overseeing production for Heart Foods, confirms Watson's version of events, and further says there was some confusion about whether his eventual share was actually 19 or 23 percent. For her part, Paula Quinn says she had a major hand in running the company prior to Quinn transferring it to her. Whatever the case, Watson and Foley Quinn would both ultimately exit Heart Foods to start their own pepper mills.  

After severing his ties to the company (except for the lifetime supply of cayenne), Quinn entered the next chapter of his life as a health guru--self-published author of Left for Dead, president of the R.F. Quinn Publishing Company, and avatar of high-heat cayenne.


Left for Dead reads like nothing so much as a letter to a friend. Perhaps that's why it would later win so many converts; family and friends say Quinn had a natural gift for letter-writing. "Whenever he had a problem, he would try to solve it usually by writing a letter," recalls his former partner Langley. "The most amusing one was one to someone who was stealing his newspapers. He taped the letter outside his door, and it said, 'If you don't mind, could you please return it by 8:00 a.m., as that is the usual time I am ready to read it?'" Quinn went on with a list of which sections he most wanted to read, which ones the thief could keep for himself, and which coupons the ink-stained crook should leave alone. "The newspaper theft stopped immediately after that," says Langley, who adds that Quinn and the newspaper smuggler eventually became cordial. "He made a friend of the person who was essentially ripping him off."

Left for Dead also reflected the family nature of Quinn's business; daughter Shannon contributed the section on herbs, while son Colin wrote the medical section. The book was not immediately a success, but through sheer hustle, infectious charm, and relentless marketing, Dick Quinn willed it into one. In the 18 months after it hit the market, Quinn appeared on more than 150 radio talk shows, talking up the life-saving virtues of cayenne. In 1994 his so-called Left for Dead Tour included over 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada. "He'd travel on the cheap. In the airport he'd be lugging his garment bag and two big boxes of books around," recalls Colin, who believes the regimen took its toll on his father's health.

But Quinn had a knack for staving off exhaustion. Every morning he'd pin a carnation to his jacket, because, his old business partner recalls, that made every day a special occasion. "Dick Quinn was the kind of guy," Langley figures, "who would go through hell and come out wearing a fresh carnation on his lapel."

In the wake of Left for Dead's success, Quinn began to envision the work as the first volume of a trilogy. He planned to call the second installment Not Dead Yet, and the third, Still Not Dead. The original book was often promoted as having sold more than 250,000 copies, though that figure has become a subject of contention in the Quinn Publishing lawsuit.

Amid this whirlwind of activity, and perhaps because of it, things on the home front had become anything but harmonious. In 1993 Quinn, in the process of obtaining a divorce from Paula, moved to San Clemente, Calif., where his daughter Kelly lived. R.F. Quinn Publishing was still under his control, but he was often on the road promoting the book. The company remained headquartered in Minneapolis, and he left his friend Al Watson in charge of it.

Watson, who had left Heart Foods in 1992 over disagreements with Paula Quinn, started Cayenne Trading Company in 1993 with his mentor's aid and blessing. Watson had sold out his 19 percent interest in Heart Foods to Paula Quinn the previous year for all of $2,000. Quinn Publishing and Cayenne Trading shared the same business address. The following year, Quinn assisted his oldest son Foley in starting Quinn Naturals in Wisconsin. Both of the lawsuits that followed Quinn's death trace their roots to this period, when the number of Quinn-connected companies mushroomed.

"Money really didn't mean a lot to him--he was more interested in just helping people," recalls Foley Quinn of his father. "He developed a number of formulas and gave us a license to use his name and formulas." Quinn says he employs a staff of 15 people and currently sells 12 mostly cayenne-based products. "One of the things that we found out through our surveys," he notes, "is that there was no name that was more recognized with cayenne than Quinn."

The divorce decree, final in April 1994, established that Dick Quinn would keep his publishing company and retain rights to his name, signature, and likeness; Paula would head Heart Foods. Quinn, even then, was not a rich man; the court filing lists his annual income at $24,000. But there was more to life than money. Acquaintances still recall his love for old, rusted-out convertibles that barely ran. Langley remembers Quinn once buying a 1960 turquoise Falcon convertible for the grand sum of $268.18: "He drove that thing around like he was the captain of the finest yacht on earth."  

By late 1994 Quinn's health was failing again. He'd been down at a convention in Orlando, Fla., pushing Left for Dead, when he started to have trouble breathing. Once back home in San Clemente, he began suffering from chest pains. Quinn's family convinced him to see a real doctor for the first time in 16 years in December 1994. It was during that visit that he learned he had congestive heart failure. The physician told Quinn that his heart was "enormous" and beating 240-300 times a minute; he couldn't understand why the thing hadn't given out already. Even with that diagnosis, Quinn lived for nearly another year. He died, a relatively young man, in California on September 3, 1995, of a ruptured aortal aneurysm.

There were two memorial services, one in California, the other in his hometown of Faribault, Minn. In accordance with his wishes, Richard Foley Quinn's ashes were scattered over County Clare, Ireland. At the time of his death, he didn't own a home or a running automobile, and had no health insurance. "He was never a very materialistic or numbers-oriented person," says Colin, who lives in Florida and serves on the board of R. F. Quinn Publishing Co. "And I think that's maybe what lead into some of the litigation that followed."


A pepper-red Camaro with "Cayenne" vanity plates is parked outside the South Minneapolis headquarters of Heart Foods. Inside the offices, wreaths of dried peppers hang on the wall, pepper-patterned rugs grace the floor, and copies of Left for Dead are stacked in a neat pile on a table.

Paula Quinn's eyes sparkle, framed by her ash-blond hair, when she talks about her late ex-husband. "He was a colorful character," she enthuses. "I always used to call him a free bird, because he was very free-spirited. He had the most charisma of any person I've ever met. He was the most humble, honest person I've ever met--a creative genius."

Still, the cayenne guru was no model for healthy living. "He would start his day with three or four fried eggs, bacon or ham, coffee, five or six Power Caps," she recalls. "In his book, he calls himself Mr. Cheeseburger." He didn't exercise. Gym membership? Aerobics? Forget it. "Cayenne is what kept him alive."

And it is cayenne that's driven Quinn's family and friends into court. Seven months to the day after Quinn died, Paula Quinn, president and majority owner of Heart Foods, sued former employees Al Watson and Foley Quinn in federal court. The crux of the claim was that Quinn Naturals and Cayenne Trading were wrongfully trading on the good name of Dick Quinn. All three companies had been started by Quinn or with his assistance, and all three still sell cayenne-based products. Heart Foods presented a host of allegations, including misappropriation of trade secrets, deceptive trade practices, copyright infringement, and "injury to business reputation." In the suit, Paula Quinn and her attorneys sought to stop the other two companies from using her late ex-husband's name, in addition to seeking damages for lost business.

Although Quinn himself seemed to live a seat-of-the-pants existence, the Heart Foods case argued that in the matter of his legacy there was a bundle of money at stake. The company estimated that lost sales during the period from 1994 to 1996 totaled "at least $784,000," and blamed the shortfall on unfair competition from Cayenne Trading and Quinn Naturals. The same filing contended that the company's sales, which had been more than $1 million annually in 1994 and 1995, were now down an estimated 35 percent from projections.

Even though Paula Quinn sued both her former stepson and Watson, she concedes that her ex-husband "would be saddened by the lawsuits, because I think he would consider it expending negative energy. I think that Dick didn't like conflict of any kind, and he certainly didn't like confrontations."

Nearly two years after it was filed, the case was dismissed this past March. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis wrote, "The record clearly establishes that Heart Foods possessed no rights in the name, signature, and likeness of Richard Quinn at the time that Defendants left their employment with Heart Foods and began their own companies." In the aftermath of the case, Heart Foods faces a new dilemma: Paula Quinn says she owes her attorney $105,000 for her lawsuit but is on the financial rocks and expects she'll be sued soon to collect on the debt.

Looking back at the action against him, Foley says, "It was a frivolous lawsuit." He believes it was designed simply to "inflict harm on my business" and charges that she sent copies of the complaint to his customers: "She damaged my reputation." Oddly enough, Foley Quinn still holds his interest in Heart Foods, but says he's looking for a way to divest.  

Paula Quinn still incorporates Quinn's story into her company's Web site and brochures. To write her dearly beloved out of Heart Foods' promotionals would be, she reasons, to change history: "A lot of people like the personal side of the story; there's a great association, a great affinity with my customers and Dick."

Watson still sells his Quinn's Blend capsules, but figures that, in terms of business strategy, it makes more sense for him to build his herbal company without invoking Quinn at every turn, particularly when another company bears Quinn's name. Foley's Quinn Naturals uses Dick Quinn's name in its marketing materials, and at conventions sets up floor displays with his photo heralding "the most recognized name in cayenne."


As if that skirmish weren't enough to turn Quinn in his grave, his daughter Shannon, who runs the now-California-based R.F. Quinn Publishing, sued Watson and Cayenne Trading in June 1997, also in federal court. At the time of Quinn's death, his assets essentially consisted of the publishing company, which was placed into a trust with Shannon and Watson serving as co-trustees. Shannon became president of the company, and Watson retained the titles of vice president, secretary, and treasurer. But the acrimony between the two reached fever pitch not long after Quinn's heart quit. There were arguments about how the company was being run and about the assembly of the posthumous Death by Deception book, which included a few brief pieces penned by Quinn, and was filled out by contributions from Shannon and Colin and Watson.

Watson, who had moved his Cayenne Trading to Sebeka earlier that year, resigned as an officer of the publishing outfit in August 1996, amid a heated fax battle that continued unabated. In a November 1996 letter to Shannon Quinn's counsel, Watson wrote, "Your client has suggested I deal directly with her. I would rather freeze to death." Later he offered an analogy of her tactics: "Like Hitler, her timing has been impeccable, and like Hitler, she is destined to die isolated in her hardened bunker." Still later, he waxed less poetic, simply saying, "Shannon is full of shit."

Shannon Quinn's lawsuit alleged that Watson had hijacked something in the neighborhood of $1 million from Quinn Publishing and that he had commandeered a mailing list of 9,000 names for the sole benefit of his own business. As part of the calculation for the allegedly missing money, the complaint contended that 250,000 copies of Left for Dead had been sold from 1992 to mid-1996. Everyone seems to agree that Quinn didn't have a head for business: Shannon blames Watson for the state of the company she inherited, while Watson points to Quinn's freewheeling bookkeeping.

Were Quinn alive today, Watson figures, even a bucket of cayenne pepper pills wouldn't soothe his likely distress about the legal wranglings between his family and friends. No, he says, "Dick would be sick. Foley was his oldest son, he considered me his best friend, and his ex-wife waited until after he died to sue us. And his daughter is trying to hold us accountable for the fact that Dick didn't always run a tidy business."

Shannon flatly disagrees: "I think he'd think that we're doing the right thing. The reason we did it is to try and preserve his legacy, which is what we've always been about." As part of her efforts to do just that, she devotes much of her time to promoting Left for Dead, as did her father before her. Three editions of the book have been published since his death, and a conscious decision was made not to add anything indicating that Quinn had indeed perished. "The consensus was, don't change a good thing," Shannon says of the immortalizing strategy.

As part of the defense in the second lawsuit, two accountants retained as expert witnesses by Watson's attorneys filed an analysis with the court of the publishing company's business through the end of 1996. Their contention rested on the opinion that the records were too sloppy to figure out exactly what had gone on; they dubbed the financial records "a disorganized mess" that offered "scant basis for historical analysis of Quinn Publishing's financial activities." The report goes on to note that "it is our impression that Dick Quinn considered the Quinn Publishing funds to be his to spend as he pleased"--whether for business or personal expenses. In reviewing checks written from the company, the accountants found stacks of checks "written to cash, Dick Quinn's children, for items which appeared to be personal in nature, to Alan Watson, and to or on behalf of Cayenne Trading."  

Shannon Quinn remains determined to prove to the cayenne-loving public that Watson has betrayed rather than honored Dick Quinn's legacy. "[My father] was intent on leaving the company of Quinn Publishing as a legacy for his children. He looked at Al Watson as his best friend," she says. "Basically, [Watson] siphoned off all of our resources to his company. He interposed himself between us and our own customers and really damaged our business. He squandered our potential."

Last September the racketeering charges against Watson were dismissed. The remaining counts still include a copyright dispute, breach of fiduciary duty, wrongful conversion of assets from Quinn Publishing to Cayenne Trading, unjust enrichment, and plain old defamation. From the outset, Watson has counterclaimed defamation and nonpayment of royalties for his portion of Death by Deception. Both sides are due to file their final, pretrial motions with the court on March 5. Barring dismissal or settlement, the case could reach trial later this spring.

Devin Quinn, 34, worked at Heart Foods from 1991 to 1998, when he excused himself from any family business; he's still waiting for all the hotheads to cool off and the bitter lawsuits to blow over. Devin recalls that during a visit in California in 1995, his ailing father predicted what would come to pass: "He said that he knows there's going to be at least three lawsuits after he dies. So far we're up to number two."


There's a video of Dick Quinn on the stump, in 1993, at the Cancer Control Conference in Pasadena, Calif. It's a testimonial, straight and simple, to the miraculous curative power of cayenne. In it, Quinn stands alone onstage before his live audience. He's just warming up as the tape rolls--laying out, in his low-key patter, the out-of-body experience that accompanied his heart attack; the inept ministerings of his Dark Ages cardiologist; and then, then the pure dumb-luck discovery of the powers of capsicum.

Even as he talks, the Minnesota native's folksy, lemme-tell-ya delivery style is peppered with humor and self-deprecation, drawing steady laughter from the assembly. With his frosty hair and sure smile, he could pass for a TV pitchman. His eyes dance as they scan the crowd; he's dressed in a gray jacket, with a yellow carnation pinned over his heart.

At one point he holds up a copy of Left for Dead for all to see. He's pushing the memoir, of course, but says he couldn't care less if his listeners buy it. He just wants them to hear him out. He wants to save their lives.

The story won't die, and, in some ways, Dick Quinn hasn't, either. Shannon Quinn says she still get calls from people who've just read his memoir and think he is still alive--that somehow cayenne pepper might have granted him everlasting life. After all, the book, currently in its 14th edition, makes no mention of the author's demise. Life, as a rule, sells better than death. And every corner of the late Quinn's balkanized empire sells what Quinn sold: hope.

In January of 1995, shortly after learning he suffered from congestive heart failure, Quinn, between doses of cayenne, jotted a quick note to his sister. It offers a snapshot of Quinn's good humor even in perilous times, and betrays no particular concern about profit margins, sales strategies, or his own legacy: "As for now, it did stop raining and it's going to be 83 today. Why worry?"


For an online look at the mighty red pepper, see,, and

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