a) Early personal acknowledgment of stomach trouble
Dan admitted that he spent most of 1977 in hospital with his stomach condition still undiagnosed making decisions by phone, and felt miserable and intense pain until Gordon Carrol called up and told him "We're going to London to make Alien. Let's go!". Dan was not too happy about going but he was persuaded to go along. (See: Alien: Production Begins)
He had already spent thousands of dollars from his Alien option and preliminary money on medical bills and it looked as if he'd need more so he went along to England. So it was as if he were being forced to leave his hospital bed and go to work. Once he got to work, the process of working helped him to make a complete recovery, so it was the first time he felt better in more than a year and the doctors were baffled.
- Starburst: But after he had sold his script to Twentieth Century-Fox, O'Bannon was hospitalised with a stomach ailment and spent most of 1977 laid up until the decision was made to transport the whole Alien project to Shepperton Studios, England. The move forced O'Bannon to leave his hospital bed and go to work. Amazingly he made what appeared to be a complete recovery and the doctors are still baffled. (Starburst 13, August 1979, p19)
- Debilitating stomach disease
Dan O'Bannon: Then I was stricken with a debilitating stomach disease still undiagnosed and spent most of '77 in hospital making decisions by phone. So I was feeling really miserable and in intense pain when Gordon Carroll called up and says "We're all going to London to make Alien. Let's go!""
I groaned and bitched, but everybody persuaded me I'd better do it. I'd already spent thousands of dollars from Alien option and preliminary money on medical bills, and it looked like I'd need more, so I went to England. Lo and behold, in the process of working, I made what appears to be a complete recovery. It was the first time I'd felt normal in better than a year" (Mediascene#35, p6)
- Living with stomach attacks
Dan O'Bannon revealed information about his symptoms to the Washington Post during an interview in the July 29th 1979 edition of the Washington Post and so in the article they revealed: So he's rich. Famous. Vindicated. If it weren't for his stomach attacks, he might get his first shot at happiness, but they started coming during the last year of work in the movie, incredible gut pain and nausea that the doctors, after endless scans and probes, found no cause for, whatsoever. The only cure is to shoot him full of Demerol and feed him intravenously. He just got out of the hospital a few weeks ago after one bout, but his worst attack came during sneak previews - one of the preview cities being his hometown of St Louis, ironically enough. (N.B. during that interview, Dan would unzip his trousers every time he sat down because of his stomach condition)
b) The Chestburster: Catharsis for pain
Instead of going out and murdering people, he wrote screenplays fueled by his anger, and the angrier he got, the better he wrote.
When he lay on Ron's couch after Dune's collapse, and didn't have two dimes to rub together, his stomach problems were flaring up again and so he embodied all this physical and mental paint in the Alien monster.
Giger was told about about how when Dan was writing the script, he had a stomach pain and he wanted the pain to go away but came up with the idea of the pain leaving through the stomach, so he invented that, but Chris Foss knew about the time that once Dan ate some fast food, after sleeping he awoke with an incredible pain and his symptoms made him feel as if that there was a beast inside him.
Writer Jason Zinoman was able to reveal how that the simple act of eating terrified Dan, and a trip to the bathroom meant potentially hours. of arduous and humiliating pain. The digestion process felt like something bubbling from inside of him struggling to get out. This made O'Bannon very nervous about travel or even being far away from a bathroom. Stress made it worse. He thought about his stomach all the time. He kept his disease quiet and worried privately to friends that it would ruin his career.
A curious thought was that this this problem with his digestion process felt like something bubbling inside him struggling to get out, imagining a way for the pain to leave and that it was a beast. From these ideas coupled with thoughts about what he had seen in comic books etc came the chest burster.
- Carthasis for stomach pains HRGiger: Dan O'Bannon, when he was writing the script, had a stomach pain and he wanted the pain to go away and came up with the idea of the pain leaving through the stomach, so he invented that. (FX (spanish magazine), 07, 1999)
- Food Poisoning Episode
Back in 1978, Chris Foss told Martin Anderson (later of DenofGeek.com) his version of the inspiration for the chestburster
Chris Foss: "The 'chest-burster' was based on an episode of food-poisoning...long before he came to Paris [for Jodorowsky's Dune], [O'Bannon] ate some fast food and woke up in the night in incredible pain and actually had to be taken to hospital; and imagined that there was a 'beast' inside him. And that was exactly where that thing came from."
Martin Anderson showed the interview to Dan O'Bannon some time later, and his comments on it included no criticism of what Foss said.(source Denofgeek.com)
- Jason Zinoman : The simple act of eating terrified him, and a trip to the bathroom meant potentially hours. of arduous and humiliating pain. The digestion process felt like something bubbling from inside of him struggling to get out. This made O'Bannon very nervous about travel or even being far away from a bathroom. Stress made it worse. He thought about his stomach all the time. He kept his disease quiet and worried privately to friends that it would ruin his career, What he didn't realize back then was that this lifelong struggle would actually be the inspiration for his greatest idea " (see Shock Value, Chapter 10 Stomaching It, p179 to 181)
- Crohn's disease.Exploration of the possibility that the symptoms of Crohns disease led to the idea of the chestburster."Mr. O’Bannon, who died in 2009, was afflicted with Crohn’s disease and suffered its symptoms for decades: “The digestion process felt like something bubbling inside of him struggling to get out.” That’s how the most famous element of Alien—the creature hatching out of a man’s stomach—was born." (New York Observer ,The Horror! The Horror! Fright Flicks Finally Get Their Due (article promoting Jason Zinoman's book 'Shockvalue') By 7/05 5:46pm)
- Dan O'Bannon; Instead of going out and murdering people,
instead of suppressing anger, I write screen plays. The angrier I am, the better I write.Take Alien. I was mad that Dune has collapsed, I was living on Ron Shusett's couch, I didn't have two dimes to rub together, I had serious stomach problems. So I embodied all this physical and mental pain in the Alien monster (Film Comment)
c) Hereditory Condition
Over the years discussion about his stomach condition had taken place, which would remain undiagnosed until 1980, Michael Froog recalled that Dan mentioned that he was thought to be inflammatory bowel syndrome at first, he had an attack of what appeared to be appendicitis during the making of Dark Star and so that was removed by surgery, but he was finally diagnosed with Crohns disease, it was wondered if that appendicitis attack due to that disease as well.
In 1986 he acknowledged to Face magazine that he had a problem that affected his intestines and he would be having a large section of bowels required removed. He inherited a condition, at one time he mentioned that it came from his father (although his UCS lecturer Michael Froog remembered Dan saying that it was from his mother,) it effected his digestive areas but wasn't infectious.
He wouldn't talk about it in detail with the media, he remained guarded about the nature of the actual problem throughout the rest of his life. However , once he died on the 17th December in 2009, it was revealed that he suffered from the disease.
As it happens that the experiences that he had with his digestive area problems, directly or indirectly related to Crohn's disease that would eventually kill him, became the inspiration for the chest burster, something that would make his name go down in history.
(For further information about Crohn's disease visit www.crohns.org.uk.)
- Congenital stomach problem. Neil Norman, a writer for The Face
interviewed Dan in 1986 and took note of his illness at the time and
found out about as much about it as he could.
Neil Norman: "Dan O"Bannon is a sick man. Shortly after my visit he had a date with a surgeon who was going to remove a large section of his bowels. Drawn and grey with pain, he was describing in minute detail the plot of his next film to someone on the other end of his radio telephone"
Later in the article he goes on to write: "Despite everything, the humour remains. O'Bannon's sourness on occasion can also be put down to poor health which is something he inherited from his father. He didn't want to talk about it in detail. All he will say is "It's not infectious". It makes it difficult for him to travel and he spends ten days getting over jet lag from a ten-hour flight. He stays at home, something he has learned to live with.
Dan spoke further about it in the article: "I'm not tough. God did not mean for me to be a physical man of iron. He meant for me to be a mind. Anything I do in life is a compromise because whatever I do that I like, there will be something about me that makes it difficult. My health problems do not affect my ability to work. No matter how much pain I'm in it never stops me writing and it never affects the quality of my work. Part of this is because writing is a narcotic. When I don't feel well , it is a way to escape from the pain". (FACE, April 1986)
- Dan during his time as a student at UCS spoke about his problem with his lecturer William Froug : O'Bannon explained that he suffered from a rare disease that produces severe abdominal inflammation and accompanying pain. Doctors had told him it was inflammatory bowel syndrome, and it was genetic. His mother had bequeathed it to him along with her cruelty, according to Dan. There was no cure, merely palliative treatment for the excruciating pain when the attacks came on. For O'Bannon, poverty and pain were nuisances he would endure as the price of success. "Every dime I can scrape together goes to pay doctors," he told me with some bitterness. (How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island: And Other Misadventures of a Hollywood, by William Froug, p255)
- Diane O'Bannon (The filming of the elevator scene in Dark Star) I think this took two day, two or three days and I think and er he got appendicitis and so he had to go to the hospital and get his appendix out, but we're not sure if that was the first really an attack of Crohns or if it was appendicitis. (We don't know. Let there be light: The Odyssey of Dark Star documentary on the Dark Star blu-ray)
- Jason Zinoman (talked about how Carpenter made O'Bannon miserable because of success but then went on to write.....) : "But what made Dan O'Bannon miserable was not jealousy or resentment or disappointment, but the awful, wrenching pain right below his naval where he could sense something terrible was stirring. O'Bannon's stomach had become a source of suffering that took up much of his attention. At first he thought it was a passing illness. Then the doctor convinced him it was appendicitis. But surgery didn't stop the pain. It wasn't diagnosed correctly until 1980, but for years the incurable condition disrupted the normal process of digestion, inflaming his bowels, shortening his gut, cutting off the transit of food through his belly. (see Shock Value, Chapter 10 Stomaching It, p179 to 181)