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‘Heaven’s Gate’ Docuseries: Why Does Frank Lyford’s Voice Sound Like That?

HBO Max docuseries follows famous cult’s 1997 mass-suicide

Frank Lyford left the Heaven’s Gate cult four years before 39 of his “classmates” committed mass-suicide in 1997. Now, you can watch him tell his story in HBO Max’s “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” docuseries — including a mid-series explanation of why his voice sounds the way it does.

Heaven’s Gate was led by Marshall Applewhite, who went by the name “Do,” and Bonnie Nettles, who went by “Ti.” Nettles died of cancer in 1985, but Applewhite went on to lead the cult until ’97, at which point he and the remaining cult members ingested barbiturate-laced apple sauce followed by vodka and covered their heads in plastic bags, which killed them. The group believed that once they freed themselves from their earthly bodies, they would be able to board an alien spacecraft that they thought was trailing behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

Lyford, who was part of the cult for 18 years, said that his natural speaking voice was forever changed after Applewhite “humiliated” him in front of the group. Viewers of the documentary will almost surely notice Lyford’s vocal struggles early on, but it is not addressed until more than halfway through the series.

“Within the first couple of years after Ti passed, we were gathered in the main room. Do was taking questions and I raised my hand to make an observation. Because it was in the morning, my morning voice a little bit huskier,” Lyford explained in Episode 3 of the “Heaven’s Gate” docuseries.

“He mimicked the depth of my voice with a pronounced bass. His intention was to remind me of not identifying with being overly male,” he continued. “But I was humiliated. I felt this smoldering anger come up in me.”

“‘How dare you put me down,'” Lyford recalled thinking. “And then after that, I gradually developed this severe inability to speak, like I have still. There’s always this push-pull, this suppression.”

Lyford left the group in 1993, four years before the mass-suicide.

“It kept returning to this gut-numbing [feeling],” Lyford said of his affiliation with Applewhite following the exchange that would become the breaking point. “I had no choice.”

All four parts of “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” are now streaming on HBO Max.