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When he was 4 years old, Ryan started talking about going home to Hollywood. He often directed imaginary movies, yelling “action!”
His parents didn’t think much of it until his nightmares started. “He would wake up grabbing his chest and saying he couldn’t breathe. He said that when he was in Hollywood his heart had exploded,” wrote Jim Tucker, M.D., a leading researcher of reincarnation cases, in his book “Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives.” Dr. Tucker is also an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia and the medical director of the Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic.
Ryan’s mother, Cyndi contacted Dr. Tucker as she sought to alleviate the boy’s distress. She wasn’t predisposed to belief in reincarnation; she was raised Baptist and her husband was the son of a Church of Christ minister. But her son’s continued talk of his other life and other family in Hollywood spurred her to seek help wherever it may be found. Ryan would often cry and ask Cyndi to take him home to his family in Hollywood.
She got some books on Hollywood from the library to see if Ryan would recognize anything. In one of the books, a picture from a 1932 movie, “Night After Night,” triggered a string of memories that were later verified.
He said he was friends with a man in the movie who was a cowboy and also an actor in cigarette commercials. Gordon Nance was an actor in this movie; he starred in Westerns and was a spokesman for Viceroy cigarettes.
Ryan pointed to a man in the photo and said, “Hey Mama, that’s George. We did a picture together. And Mama, that guy’s me. I found me.”
The many Ryan identified as George was indeed named George Raft. He was an actor primarily in 1930s and ’40s gangster movies. The man Ryan identified as himself wasn’t named in the book, but Dr. Tucker later helped the family discover the man’s identity: Marty Martyn.
Martyn had a minor role in the movie. Ryan remembered a scene from the movie involving a closet full of guns. There was such a scene in this movie.
He remembered other details of Martyn’s life—the colors of his car and his wife’s car, his mother’s curly brown hair, a sister three years younger than him, his daughter’s pigtails, his time tap dancing on Broadway. Ryan once asked his mother for a “Tru Ade,” before correcting himself and saying “Dr. Pepper.” As it turns out, Tru Ade was a soft drink available from the 1940s to the early ’70s, well before Ryan’s time.
He saw a photo of Marilyn Monroe and called her “that Mary lady.” He said he tried to talk to her at a party and “those studio guys” punched him. They wouldn’t let him get close enough to talk to her. He saw a photo of Rita Hayworth and said she used to make Coke floats.
Nostalgia and longing characterized his talk of the Hollywood lifestyle, and of traveling the world, waltzing on ships with pretty ladies and other glamorous pastimes. He once said, “I just can’t live in these conditions. My last home was much better.”
Testing the Memories Further
Tucker’s predecessor at the University of Virginia, the late Ian Stevenson, tested many cases of children who remembered past lives in Asia. Tucker is focusing more on American cases. Whereas Asian families often come from a background of belief in reincarnation, many American families don’t.
“In the Asian cases, families have often conducted informal tests that were completely uncontrolled,” Tucker wrote. “As Ian wrote, the tests often occur with a large group of people around. Someone asks a leading question such as, ‘Do you see your wife here?’ When everyone looks expectantly at the previous person’s widow, the child can hardly fail to point out the correct person.”
Dr. Tucker showed Ryan four photos of women, only one of which Martyn had known, it was his wife. Ryan showed no recognition of the other photos and pointed to the photo of Martyn’s wife and said she was familiar.
Dr. Tucker showed him four men. Ryan pointed to one and said “That’s Senator Five.” Ryan said he had met the senator in New York. The photo was of Senator Ives (Dr. Tucker said the child may have mixed up “Ives and “Five”), who was a U.S. senator for New York in the 1940s and ’50s. Martyn had known Ives, but none of the other three men in the photos.
Dr. Tucker gave Ryan four names to look at (Ryan was six years old at the time, and could read the names): John Johnson, Willie Wilson, Marty Martyn, and Robert Robertson. Ryan chose Marty Martyn. Dr. Tucker conducted several similar tests.
Meeting Martyn’s Daughter
Sometimes facing the family of a previous life can help children let go of the previous life and the associated distress, according to Dr. Tucker: “The children’s memories have been validated, but they also see that things have changed.”
Though Ryan had long expressed intense longing for what he remembered to be his old life, at a certain point, he said “I just want to be me, not the old me.” When he was preparing to meet Martyn’s daughter and he was told her age, he got angry. “She got old. Why didn’t she wait for me?”
Ryan was reserved during the meeting. He later said: “Same face, but she didn’t wait on me. She changed; her energy changed. I don’t want to go back. I want to always keep this family.”
Why He Returned
Many of the children who seem to recall their past lives died in distress.
“Ryan said the reason he had to come back was that he didn’t spend enough time with his family in his last life; he worked so much that he forgot that love was the most important thing,” Dr. Tucker wrote.
What Ryan Remembered From His Mother’s Pregnancy, the Time Before Birth
Cyndi wanted a daughter. Her husband already had two children and they’d decided to only have one more. Ryan asked her one day why she thought he was going to be a girl and Cyndi asked him how he knew she was hoping for or expecting a girl. He replied that no one had told him, he had seen it from heaven.
“This doctor guy did a test and told you I was a boy. You got mad and said he was wrong. You just knew that I was going to be a girl. Mommy, it was Daddy’s birthday, you went to a restaurant afterward to eat and you cried for a very long time.” This was all as it had happened. Cyndi said she really regretted her behavior that day and couldn’t imagine she would have told Ryan about it or talked about it for him to overhear.