Enron ogre Kenneth Lay died this morning in Aspen. The cause printed in the N.Y. Times was a heart attack, which it may have clinically been. Of course, the dramatist in all of us can’t help but imagine-presume that what really brought his curtain down — a combination of stress, the shame-horror of doing prison time and, of course, not wanting to die in jail.
Lay was found guilty several weeks ago on six counts of fraud and conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud, and was looking at a very long sentence, and having lived a cushiony lifestyle for so long, he must have been filled with dread at what lay ahead.
I don’t mean to sound heartless about this, but Lay was one of the most heartless corporate pricks of all time, a major conniver whose venal spinnings and maneuver- ings resulted in the ruining of many lives. Take a look sometime at Alex Gibney‘s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and tell me I’m wrong. If anyone deserved the label of “bad guy,” it was certainly Kenneth Lay.
So let’s be honest and admit that Lay’s death this morning is dramatically satis- fying. If anything he got off easy. Aspen is a very beautiful and soothing place and a good place to breathe in mountain air, lie down, close your eyes and bid farewell. A better point of departure, certainly, than some prison cell in some federal facility.
For some reason I’m thinking of that moment in Casablanca when Ingrid Bergman laments that if Humphrey Bogart’s Rick doesn’t help Victor Laszlo by selling him the fabled “letters of transit” that he’ll die in Casablanca, and Bogart snaps, “So what? I’m gonna die in Casablanca. It’s a good spot for it.”