The bizarre tale of a man who planned to chop off his own feet live on a video feed.
2001 was a different time. There was no social media, the internet was still primarily a dial-up experience and even a photo could take a good few minutes to download. So you have to admire the ambition of 33-year-old Paul ‘Freck’ Morgan, who launched an ambitious plan for a live video feed. And not just any feed. Oh no. Moran planned to cut off his feet, while watched by goggle-eyed subscribers.
Some background to this. Morgan was a man who had suffered a major spinal injury in 1986 when – in a story that perhaps needs more detail – he fell out of a car and was run over by the boat that it was towing. By any standards, that’s an incredibly unlucky chain of events. After a series of operations, he could just about walk, but had no feeling from the ankles down. By 2001, medical technology had advanced to the stage where Paul’s feet could be replaced by prosthetics that would improve the quality of his life. But sadly, Paul lived in America and his medial insurance didn’t deem the operation necessary. As he stated on his website:
“Since Paul is on Medicare/Medicaid, his insurance will not cover the amputation and new prosthetics because it is not deemed a necessary procedure. Paul also receives medical disability and his Medicare plan does not even cover the cost of his catheter bag. Paul doesn’t want to fight a no-win battle with the insurance and medical communities in the United States.
“Paul is using this event as a chance to speak out against the lack of care in the medical field and the insurance industry. He strongly believes that this could make great strides in the much-needed insurance and medical reform in the United States. This amputation is simply Paul’s way of saying that even though corporate America has refused him, he will get his new prosthetics and improve his quality of life.”
So he came up with a radical idea. rejecting his friend Kevin Nicholson’s suggestion that he placed his legs on a railroad track and let nature take its course, he instead decided to kill two birds with one stone. Using a home-made guillotine, he would cut off his feet live on the internet, watched by anyone who had paid $20 for the pleasure, thus covering his medical costs while also making a statement about the American healthcare system. Essentially, Paul was inventing Gofundme decades before it existed.
Paul’s site tootled along, relatively unnoticed until he called into the Howard Stern Show to plug it. Then, everything exploded. the news media picked up on his story and the site hits hugely increased. Everyone was fascinated by the story, but no one knew how genuinely serious it was. And this would essentially be Paul’s downfall. While the world was watching the story unfold, few people were handing over any money. That’s understandable – there just wasn’t the online fundraising infrastructure at that time. Even PayPal was still a niche thing. Even if people wanted to help Paul out, it wasn’t easy – you literally had to mail him money – and it definitely didn’t seem to be a safe investment for many. On top of that, many were just revelling in the sheer absurdity of the site. Paul needed to raise something like $150,000 to pay for surgery, prosthetics and other things, and his income as the various changing deadlines came and went remained stubbornly under $500. To make matters worse, Paul’s sense of priorities seems a touch skewed – not only did he seem to be hiring a full production crew for something that, even in 2001, could’ve been shot on a camcorder, but he even had a band booked. Why not go the whole hog and set the show up in a big top?
To make matters worse, the Stern interview had alerted the authorities to the plan, and they were not best pleased. Apparently, just because America has a terrible healthcare service does not mean that you are free to perform DIY surgery, especially for paying viewers. Mississipi’s attorney general offered to have doctors in Jackson ‘look at’ Paul’s feet – an offer that was notably short of any sort of promise to actually do anything afterwards – and suggested that his planned amputation would be in violation of the splendidly-named ‘mayhem’ laws, as well as fraud regulations. They may have been onto something with the latter suggestion, as Paul’s dates for cutting off his feet came and went with some regularity. Obviously, the lack of funds was a major issue, but the people who had paid up must have been wondering just when the promised chopping was going to happen. Most frustrated must have been Jarrod Pilone of Pompano Beach, Florida, who had won the competition to attend the chopping live in an all-expenses-paid trip that must have also bitten into Paul’s income, and who was presumably continually making and cancelling plans for his big day out.
The first planned date was September 19th 2001. Of course, America was still reeling from events of a week earlier at that time, so it’s likely than no one was really in the mood to watch him chop off his feet at that point. Possibly he had other things on his mind too. The date was put back to November 30th. Then to January 5th. But Paul seemed determined to go ahead. He had secured medical assistance to ensure that he didn’t bleed to death, and was going to build his guillotine – from his own plans – in a secret location to prevent the police from showing up and spoiling everything.
Unfortunately, Paul seems to have been let down by everyone. The final message on his site read:
“Corporate lawyers have caused me to lose several members of the crew, the satellite truck and the initially interested investors who were covering the production costs of the amputation event. This being the case, the amputation of my feet by guillotine is postponed until the production money for the event has been secured. Many of you may wonder why I am not using the sign-up money to pay for the costs. The money paid for memberships is in escrow until after I perform the amputation. So I am hoping to find an interested investor to help me get this amputation underway!”
A man chopping off his own feet is, by any estimation, a risky investment. You can’t see this pitch going very far on Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank. And indeed, Paul seemed ultimately unsuccessful in his financial plans. The website was last updated late in 2001. The planned January amputation came and went, as did the whole site within a few months. This radical bit of live broadcasting never happened.
There are those who – understandably – suspect that the whole thing was a hoax, or at best a piece of performance art. But what little outside evidence that there is does suggest that the whole thing was a genuine, if woefully misguided idea by a man pushed to the edge. And that’s what everyone seemed to forget about this story. At its heart was a man so desperate for the medical help that was beyond his finances that he was willing to chop off his own feet – with all the inherent risks that come with that – for other people’s entertainment. Of course, today Paul could set up a fundraiser with one of several platforms – though it is notable that unless you have a sob story that either grabs the attention of internet influencers or celebrities, your chances of making the money you need on these sites will still be minimal. You might think that Paul could at least be sure of making the money by chopping his feet off today, with the winning combination of internet ghouls, HD video and secure payment options, but I rather suspect that his plans would be ended through public outrage and payment platforms throwing him off. He might at least get the sympathy funding needed for the operation though. As it is, I have no idea if Paul ever did cut his feet off, or get a trained surgeon to do it for him. As it is, he essentially vanished from the internet and no one seems to know the ending of this story. If you do – in fact, if you are Paul – please tell us.
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