Andrew Lang kept to himself, so it’s almost fitting that the customers waiting in line for cronuts ignored his death.
Lang made headlines last week when he died on a park bench next to Dominique Ansel Bakery in Manhattan’s SoHo; the Edward Hopper-like photo of his body, upright on the bench under a white police sheet, legs crossed in an almost jaunty, nonchalant stance, doesn’t give off the customary whiff of tragedy usually associated with death.
Since then it’s been speculated he was homeless—or worse. Because of the publicity surrounding his death, his family has had to read everything from how he may not have had a family to him possibly being a local pervert.
“If he only knew everything that was being said about him,” his mother said when reached by The Daily Beast. “He would be horrified. No one was more private than Andy. He treasured anonymity.”
Lang, 47, grew up in Wisconsin as the son of a self-made multi-millionaire but moved to Manhattan long ago and worked occasionally as a film producer on movies like Loverboy and with directors like Michael Mailer and Eduardo Sanchez.
“He didn’t kill himself and he wasn’t leading a double life or any of those things,” his sister Molly Lang Mattison told The Daily Beast, adding he died of natural causes.
“He was just a very private individual. He loved New York so much. He was a loner and loved the city’s anonymity. He wasn’t on social media. He hated questions about himself. You couldn’t ask him questions. He was an enigma.”
Lang was single with no children and lived in a $3 million condo on Sullivan Street. A creature of habit who ate the same meal (with two martinis) at the same restaurant at the same table every night, Lang often also liked to sit on the bench nearest the tree at Vesuvio playground before returning home.
On the night of July 21 he sat down for the last time.
Police weren’t called until people began arriving at the nearby Dominique Ansel Bakery for its legendary cronuts at 5 a.m. the next morning and someone noticed he was dead.
The combination of a few cronut lovers tweeting about how surreal it was that the other 30 customers in line appeared “unfazed by the nearby corpse” proved irresistible to the New York press.
“People in line for cronuts unfazed by Nearby Corpse,” the Post reported.
“Man’s Corpse… Didn’t Taint Customers’ Sweet Appetites,” proclaimed the Daily News.
“Cronut Line Rerouted Due to Dead Body,” said Gothamist.
A tourist from Oregon told one paper that he was so struck by Lang’s peaceful expression that he assumed he was just sleeping so he sat next to him and snapped photos.
Details about Lang himself were sparse compared to the descriptions of cronuts although one report shed doubt on his possible homelessness by quoting a neighbor who said he was “nice” but “may not have had a family.”
“What people wrote was so awful,” said Susanne Lang, who traveled to New York from Wisconsin with her husband where they spent five days unraveling the paperwork surrounding their son’s death.
Lang tried to reach one newspaper to complain about their coverage but said she gave up when she had to create an account to log in to the site.
“They all were just poking fun of my son’s death and sensationalizing it. What hurt me the most was how other papers kept picking up the story and running with it. Andy was such a gentle soul. He didn’t deserve any of this.”
Lang’s husband Robert is a well-known entrepreneur and developer in the Milwaukee suburb of Delafield. He made his first fortune in calendars but eventually sold the $65 million Lang Companies, Inc.
Lang later became obsessed with developing a 650-acre plot of land that became the Erin Hills golf club, site of the 2017 U.S. Open Championship.
In 2001 he helped bankroll a movie—Red Betsy, set in 1941 Delafield—that his son Andrew produced.
“It was a very Midwestern story,” the director Chris Boebel said. “And the Langs are a very Midwestern family. The father is just as private as Andrew. I remember Andy being very excited by movies. At the time I met him he was just a nice guy on his way up and trying to make it in New York.”
Lang’s sister said the irony of her brother becoming so notorious, however briefly, in death, was such that she and her mother almost wished he were still alive so they could ask him “why you of all people had to die by the cronut line.”
Mattison said Lang disliked his photo being taken so much that the only recent pictures she has of him are with his nieces and nephews.
Like the rest of her family, she was torn between giving any details about her brother and wanting to let it be known he was someone with a family and someone “worthy of respect.”
She agreed that the last image of him, splashed all over the media, looked a little like performance art, or an unspoken message.
“It was a message and we know what it meant,” she said. She did not elaborate further.