I’d like to tell you a story. It’s about a little boy who grew up in Sweden, in the ’60s and ’70s. His dad was this tall, good-looking army officer. His mom was this pretty but shy linguist. He had a brother and two sisters, and they lived in suburb of Stockholm. And that little boy was me.
I think I remember the first time my dad hit me. I was around three or four, I think I was walking in front of the TV and he kicked me, and I flew into some bookshelves. And I remember there was blood and my mom was screaming. You see, my dad had a lot of problems and he took it out on me and my mom. He never touched my brothers or sisters.
And this started when I was about three or four and went on till I was about 11 or 12. It was a really hard part of my life because I had to go to school with a black eye or, you know, some of my hair was missing because he’d been yanking my head. I think some of you may know what I’m talking about. I understand how you’re feeling.
You see, when you get abused at home, you have two choices, just like an animal: fight or flight. You can either run away, which was impossible for me because I was a little kid living at home; or you can fight back, which I couldn’t do because, you know, I was just a little kid. My dad was my size.
But I learned later there’s a third choice: you freeze. It’s like a gazelle being taken by a lion. You just freeze and go dead; all your emotions are bottled up inside. I would just lie there. When he was hitting me, I wouldn’t even cry. And, by the time I was 11 or 12, I was smoking, I was drinking, I was running away from home on stolen motorcycles, sleeping over in someone’s garage, but my dad always found me. Back home for another beating.
So, my grades at school were terrible, and my dad said, “I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to get rid of this kid somehow and get him out of here.” So, he decided to send me up north, to his parents’, my grandparents’. And they lived in a small town in the northern part of Sweden.
Now, Sweden is a country pretty far north. I mean, Stockholm in the winter gets dark at 2:30 pm. Stockholm was like Miami Beach, compared to the place I was being sent. But my grandparents were quite nice to me, and they took care of me and my grades got better. I discovered ice hockey, and then weight training, and karate, and I started to heal.
And, by the time I was about 17 or 18, I remembered something my dad had told me. Because, you know, my dad was this pretty smart guy, he was very charming, he was a nice guy – most of the time, when he wasn’t going nuts. And he told me, “Listen – Listen, kid, this socialistic country, forget it, you can’t do anything here. If you want to be somebody, you’ve got to go to America.” I always remembered that.
So, I kind of got all the scholarships I could because I didn’t have any money. I got a scholarship to WSU, Washington State University; another one to Clemson. Finally, I got a Fulbright scholarship to MIT, which is the reason I am standing here. And there was just one little snag – because, my fourth year to my last year as a master’s, I was in Sydney, at the University of Sydney, and I was studying engineering on a scholarship, and I was working extra as a bouncer because, you know, that trauma is really helpful when you get into a ring with somebody. So, I became a pretty good fighter.
I was a karate champion and I had what you call a “killer instinct.” So, me and my buddy who was my sparring partner got hired to do some special work at a rock concert, different artists, and one of them was this beautiful black singer, a statuesque lady named Grace Jones. We worked there and, afterwards, she hired some of us to do especial security at her party when she was going to go out and hang out at the nightclubs in Sydney. I didn’t really realize right away why she’d picked this tall, blond, buff guy to be her special security. But, you know, I found out later that evening. I, uh – I ended up in a hotel room, missed a few classes the next day, college – And, you know, she was a world-class artist, totally out of my league. That’s what I thought, but she didn’t agree, you know. So, we ended up having this relationship.
I went to Tokyo to do some karate, she was there doing a commercial. Then I ended up moving to New York. So, I had a couple of months before I was going to start at MIT, and those months literally changed my life because my – what happened was – This was New York city, Studio 54 – I met David Bowie, Michael Jackson. First week I was there, I went to some party. There was a little guy with white hair. He came up to me and said, “Hi! What are you famous for?” He took a picture of me and I’m like, “Nothing, as far as I know.” And he goes, “Hey, I want to put you on my magazine.” Well, that was Andy Worhol, Interview Magazine.