Nuclear War Death Pool

In a typical game, you give the pool a list of celebrities and earn points for each death. Usually, the points are determined on a "Minus 100" rule. When Mafia chief John Gotti died recently at age 61, Death Pool Dave earned a cool 39 points.

"Everyone picks Bob Hope. But he's 99, you only get one point," Dave says.

Should Hope reach his 100th birthday — and The Wolf Files ardently hopes that he will — he'll still be worth one point.

Cash Payments for Inside Information

The big death pool scores come when younger celebrities meet an untimely passing. Dave hardly cried when Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley died at 34 of a drug overdose earlier this year. He won $15,000.

Some rock fans sent Dave nasty letters. "They said I was a sadistic necrophiliac. But I say that's beating a dead horse," he said, adding that Staley "threw his life away" with drugs.

Dave says he zeroed in on Staley after an EMS worker told him that he had been to the singer's home and saw that he had gangrene on one arm. "I paid that guy $2,000 for that information," he says. "I usually don't give that much. But this information was that good."

With the $13,000 win, Dave could be headed to his best year since 1999, when he won an equal amount, largely based on the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. in a plane crash.

"It's not just drugs we're looking at," Dave says, referring to the 20 or 30 serious players around the world with whom he competes. "We're looking for telling articles in local newspapers that show the sort of lifestyle that might lead to an early death. We're also looking for insider tips who can tell us something that the rest of the world doesn't know."

High on his current list are former baseball star Darryl Strawberry, actor Robert Downey Jr. and Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, all of whom have a history of drug abuse. "Strawberry is a good pick because he's under 40, he's had colon cancer and he's suicidal," he says. "I guarantee Strawberry doesn't field forever."

Dave says that a friend of Downey's complained for putting him on his list. "I told him when Downey proves that he's cleaned up his act, I'll take him off my list."

Honor Among Ghouls

If there is any honor among Dave's peers, it's that they resist average people who are thrust into the headlines. Nobody was betting after journalist Daniel Pearl was abducted in Afghanistan several months ago.

"With the celebrities, it's fair game," Dave says. "I certainly have pity for the Pearl family and their loss." Even with tensions heating up between India and Pakistan, Dave says he has no desire to join the Indo-Pakistani Death Pool. "I don't get the point, what if there is no nuclear bomb? Nobody wins. Why play?"

Still, Dave checked if there were any newsmakers in the area who might be good candidates for his regular ghoul pools. "You never know," he says.

Heidelberger, however, says he's hoping that the bombing never comes. In a perfect world, India and Pakistan will disarm and he'll throw a "nonproliferation party" with money in the pot.

"Unfortunately," he says, "I'm a pessimist. Someone will win my contest and the rest of the world will lose."

Of course, if the world ends, all bets are off.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.

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