Howard Hughes: The Road to Hearing Loss Part III

The past couple of weeks we have looked at the hearing loss of Howard Hughes. The story is one of a bazaar journey as Mr. Hughes goes from being a famous movie maker, aviator and aircraft designer to the mentally incompetent recluse that we came to know at the end of his days. But was 1976 really the end of his days? Reasonably credible stories that have surfaced that the person on record as dying as Howard Hughes while descending into Houston April 12, 1976 may not have actually been him. Hughes was quite prone to the use of doubles to fool the public, the government, the press, and business associates as to his whereabouts. Although there are just about as many sightings of Howard Hughes as there sightings of Elvis, one interesting and credible story suggests Mr. Hughes might just have escaped into obscurity of rural Alabama. The book, Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes, now in a second edition, relates evidence that he may have lived for another 25 years, until 2001 as Nik Nicely, a retired aviation mechanic from the Troy, Alabama.
The story, related by retired Major General Mark Musick, presents the questions that caused him to conduct further research into the later life of Howard Hughes. Initially skeptical, he kept wondering, “How could Hughes appear to witnesses as an emaciated, long finger nailed and mentally incompetent, yet fly a jet aircraft four months later? How could a doctor describe him as looking like a “prisoner of war,” when at he same time investment bankers, politicians, and diplomats who met him said he was articulate and well-groomed? The answer is aperfect example of the brilliance of the elusive billionaire. He simply found a mentally incompetent man to impersonate him, drawing the attention of the Internal Revenue Service and an army of lawyers who pursued him, while he conducted his business in peace from Panama with his new wife, Eva McLelland.” Although moving around here and there, conducting business from various places phoning orders via satellite phone to the office where the double and his staff resided appears to be the “Hughes Operation” until the death of the mentally incompetent “double” in 1976. The phone calls were untraceable as Hughes owned the satellite phone system at the time. Finally settling in rural Alabama where he and Eva lived in a small trailer, ever ready to move on a moments notice.The double is thought to be a small time bit actor, Brucks Randall who was hired by Hughes off and on to play a role as Hughes in various places that he did not want to go. Randall also moved about from place to place showing up as Hughes at various activities while the real Hughes was off doing business somewhere else. While their relationship begins in the late 1940s, Hughes hires him from 1957 to 1968 to confuse those looking for him. In 1968, Randall was shot in the back of the head and lived but incurred significant brain damage while playing Hughes. Hughes felt obligated to take care of Randall and concocted a great scheme to take care of his double by having this Brucks Randall “play him” for the rest of his life. Simultaneously, using his connections with the CIA, Hughes acquired the identity of a former CIA employee, Nik Nicely. Nicely had mysteriously disappeared in the late 1960s, after a counter drug activity assignment in Central America. Hughes, alias “Nik,” had many reasons to seek refuge and had the “resources” to be successful. Hughes had CIA connections from assisting the government in the resurrection of a Soviet Submarine off the coast of Hawaii and was quite a contributor to Nixon campaigns. There is even speculation that the missing 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes relate to the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters by the “plumbers”, indirectly associated with Hughes. And for the years 1972 and 1973, Howard Hughes’ description bounced between a long finger-nailed mentally incompetent man and a well-groomed articulate businessman. 

Confusion ran rampant as the two distinctive descriptions of Hughes spread throughout in the media waves. It is speculated that without Howard Hughes, the Watergate burglary would never had happened and President Nixon would have finished his term with distinction.  The long finger-nail, bed-ridden, mentally incompetent “Hughes” who died in 1976 was a stand-in and very likely, Brucks Randall, a brain damaged actor playing an Oscar role and Nik Nicely was an Alabama recluse.   

While there are no records, such as audiograms and speech recognition scores to support the residual hearing of Howard Hughes, there are reports of  evaluations out there that have concluded that Nik Nicely’s VA audiogram and that of Howard Hughes were essentially the same.  Now without the Ototoxicity component presented last week his hearing would have been impaired, but not to the degree mentioned last week.  The impairment would have probably been mostly from noise exposure and a few accidents, even a skull fracture and look more like the one presented here.
If you have a hour to spend on this interesting mystery, click on Mark Musick’s picture for his lecture on the bazaar later life of Howard Hughes. If you thought there was a cover up in the Watergate Scandal…….this makes that look like child’s play!


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About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.