What if I told you I had a cure for AIDS? Would you believe me? What about cancer? Or diabetes?
There are those who believe that Dr. Sebi, born Alfredo Bowman—a world-renowned vegetarian herbalist, healer, pathologist and biochemist—had the cure for all of them, all the diseases that bring devastation and an altered existence before snatching the lives of those who don't break free.
There are many who believe that Dr. Sebi, who was not a licensed physician, became a threat to a multibillion-dollar medical industry that not only relies on continued sickness but also needs it; it profits from it.
On May 28, 2016, Dr. Sebi was arrested at Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport in Honduras for carrying some $37,000 in cash. He was released pending a court hearing, only to be rearrested June 3 by the Ministerio Público, Honduras' version of the FBI, and charged with money laundering. Dr. Sebi remained in custody until Aug. 6, when he was rushed to a local hospital reportedly suffering from complications of pneumonia. Dr. Sebi died en route. He was 82.
Below are five mysteries surrounding his life and his death.
Dr. Sebi rose to cultlike fame pushing a simple dietary premise: that food is alkaline for the body, and dead foods kill your body's natural ability to heal and regenerate healing. By eliminating what Dr. Sebi considered toxic foods—like meat, poultry, seafood, all processed or synthetic items, alcohol, sugar, fried food and iodized salt—the body could begin detoxing. Replacing those foods with plain ripe fruit; nonstarchy vegetables, especially leafy greens; raw nuts and nut butters; and grains like quinoa, rye and kamut promotes the body's natural healing properties. In doing so, he claimed to have cured several patients of AIDS, cancer, diabetes and blindness.
The myth of Dr. Sebi grew stronger in 1988 after the self-taught herbalist ran ads in the Amsterdam News, the Village Voice and the New York Post noting that "AIDS has been cured." The story goes that the New York State attorney general and New York City Department of Consumer Affairs told Dr. Sebi to remove the ads; he refused and was arrested. The charges leveled against him included practicing medicine without a license, selling products not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and fraudulently claiming that he could cure AIDS and other diseases. The judge asked Dr. Sebi to bring in one patient who could testify that he had cured him or her of these potentially fatal diseases. He reportedly provided 70 patients and won the case. And the legend of Dr. Sebi was born.
Dr. Sebi's arrest records have not been released, so it remains unclear as to why he was arrested, released and then rearrested for carrying so much cash, since it wouldn't have been unusual for a healer who had treated several high-profile clients—who reportedly included Michael Jackson, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, John Travolta and Eddie Murphy—to have a large amount of money on him. Lopes was actually in Honduras visiting Dr. Sebi when she died.
Dr. Sebi was born in 1933 in Honduras and spent his life there. He had 17 children. Dr. Sebi's family was reportedly trying to get him released from custody, but to no avail. He was held for over a month with no court date, although no serious crime had been committed. Because he had no court date after his second arrest, bail was never set.
Major newspapers didn't cover his death; in fact, major newspapers barely covered his life. Surely a man who not only claims to have cured cancer but also beat a lawsuit alleging that he was a quack by bringing in apparently healed patients into the courtroom would be someone the world would want to hear more from? Newspapers didn't even invest energy in debunking his claims.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the lack of attention paid to Dr. Sebi's teachings, the lack of publicity surrounding his reported successes, and the mystery surrounding his arrest and death are because, as any street hustler can tell you, there's no money in the cure—the money is in the sickness. The pharmaceutical business not only needs you sick but doesn't make money if you're well.
It's easy to write off conspiracy theorists as loons who invest too much time in “internet thinking,” but I wonder if some of us are too connected to conventional thinking just because it's what we know. Conventional thinking has me questioning why prescription medications have commercials if you have to have a prescription to obtain them. Drugs are big business in this country, and Dr. Sebi was pushing a healthy lifestyle that moved people toward better eating and, in turn, less medication. I don't know if I'm ready to choose between the red and the blue pill, but it does lead me back to my original question: If I told you I had a cure for AIDS, would you believe me?
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.