The Totally Preventable Death of a Brooklyn Icon
Dolores Perri was a protégée of “natural living” guru Gary Null, who calls the COVID-19 vaccine a fraud. She didn’t get one—and died of the virus.
Dolores Perri was an 82-year-old paragon of seemingly ageless health: an effervescent pescatarian who exercised religiously, ran in a dozen marathons, and counseled others on nutrition when she was not helping her husband run the iconic model slot car track Buzz-a-Rama in Brooklyn.
But like some in alternative health circles, she was a vaccine skeptic. She shared the views of her longtime mentor, Gary Null, a talk radio host and self-described alternative medicine expert. She believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines long in use are toxic and that too little is known about the new ones developed for COVID-19.
When her 57-year-old son, Frank, told her in March that he himself had been vaccinated, the lifelong Brooklyn resident had the opposite reaction most parents in the virus-ravaged borough would have.
“She was so upset with me she couldn’t talk,” Frank Perri told The Daily Beast. “My mother never not talked to me.”
Not long afterwards, Dolores’ opposition to the vaccine undid all her other healthy and happy living.
Her husband, Buzz, got sick first. He may have been exposed to the virus while operating Buzz-A-Rama, the last slot car track in a city that had 6,000 such spots when he first opened up in 1965.
Dolores then fell ill. She and Buzz were both admitted to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Park Slope. He improved and was transferred to a COVID-19 nursing home in Coney Island—separating a pair who met when she was 14 and lived two doors down from him.
”They never spent a night apart,” Frank said.
At the hospital, Dolores only grew sicker despite the zinc and Vitamin D and other supplements and remedies she took on the sly.
“She started ordering up more and more things,” Frank recalled. “She kept giving me a list of things to bring her, sneak it in to her. My sister snuck it in under some fruit.”
None of it could afford her the protection that would have been imparted by a single milliliter of vaccine. Now, a woman who had repeatedly run the 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon was winded just lying in a hospital bed.
“She was struggling to breathe,” Frank recalled.
He and his sister were at least able to be with Dolores as she reached the end on April 30. Frank noted that they had not spoken to her about final arrangements.
“We never talked about that because she always said she was going to live forever,” he later said.
Buzz, left to face a life without his wife of 61 years, was still in a nursing home, recovering from the virus. On May 5, he sat with Frank in the solarium and listened expectantly to Gary Null’s noontime radio show. Null had told Frank that he would be making a tribute to Dolores around 12:15 p.m.
Frank and Buzz heard no mention of Dolores as the hour-long show proceeded towards the end, although Null did talk about the COVID-19 vaccines, harkening back to the Thalidomide tragedy in which as many as 15,000 children were born deformed after the drug was given to pregnant women.
“Sixty-five years of stringent safety measure brought in to avoid another scandal on the scale of Thalidomide have been swept aside by Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, by the President of the United States, by the Surgeon General, by the heads of the FDA, the CDC, the World Health Organization,” Hull said, reciting the touchstones of various anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories. “It’s one massive fraud.”
He continued his fact-free soliloquy by saying, “There is nothing they have done to show the actual safety of the drugs that are on the market, these new experimental vaccines... none of which, not a single one of which, was tested to see will it prevent infection, which it clearly does not.”
He followed that with an incendiary and irresponsible lie:
“In fact the week after you get the injection your immune system really goes down. And that’s why a lot of people who were COVID-negative [and] got the vaccine became COVID-positive then got very sick and some have died. Thousands have died in the United States. Tens of thousands injured and seriously injured in the United States. Many more thousands have died in the United Kingdom, more in the European Union and hundreds of thousands, probably approaching a million, seriously injured around the world. Look at it a different way, we were told this is safe and effective… It is not. It’s not safe nor effective.”
Hearing all this, Frank wondered how Null could possibly go from that to talking about his mother.
“How do you segue from this to your protégée dying of COVID?” Frank remembered asking himself. “How is this possible?”
The answer seemed to be that Null could not. Frank says that the radio broadcast he and his father listened to ended with no mention of Dolores.
But the show was also a podcast, and Null does speak of Dolores at the very end of that recording, after a final caller offered a reason for not getting the vaccine.
“Going through your DNA, there’s a good chance of it causing auto-immune disease for the rest of my life,” the caller said, referencing another fearmongering theory circulating among anti-vaxxers, which mainstream scientists say is false.
Null let that worry go unchallenged and proceeded to eulogize his unvaccinated and deceased protégée. Null spoke of Dolores with great fondness, saying he had first met her when she attended one of his talks in the 1980s. She recalled that she had waited to ask questions afterwards, and he noted that she was one of those very rare souls whose concerns were more focused on the health of others than on her own.
At the time, Dolores was working as a dietitian for a women and children’s center affiliated with a Brooklyn hospital. She told Null it was a toss-up between hospital food, school food, and prison food. She was looking for healthier alternatives and became a Null acolyte, working for a time as a counselor in his office and giving weekly cooking classes at his health-food restaurant. She had then set out on her own.
Null now suggested that Dolores had saved thousands of lives getting people to exercise and eat better. He made an oblique reference to the cause of her death by saying she and Buzz had been “infected,” but he did not explicitly say it was COVID-19 and he said nothing more about vaccines
“Her son, wonderful guy Frank, said to me she was in the hospital for about a month,” Null told his listeners. “I asked him, ‘Why didn’t she call me?’ I could have helped her.”
The Daily Beast called Null on Monday to ask Null about Dolores and vaccines. In that interview, he denied calling COVID vaccines a “massive fraud”—even though he had, in fact, done just that during the May 5 show.
On Tuesday, The Daily Beast emailed Null to inquire if Frank had not heard the tribute to his mother because the radio show ended earlier than the podcast.
“I’m sorry Frank did not hear the podcast,” Null replied. “Hence today I will set aside time near the top of my program… to honor the memory of his mother.”
He kept his word—and this time he used the word COVID.
“So then the question is, if she was into health, why did she get sick?” Null said. “I can’t answer that. I never asked her what her diet was, what supplements she did. That’s none of my business.”
He added, “I never asked her if she was vaccinated or not vaccinated.”
“Everyone in this audience knows I am pro-vaccine, providing that they can prove before they stick that vaccine in someone’s arm that it’s both safe and effective by double-blind placebo-controlled standards of using a saline solution against an active compound,” he said on Tuesday’s show.
He failed to mention that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had undergone exactly such a trial, including the use of a saline solution as a placebo.
“At the same time, I’m a big believer in freedom of choice,” he now continued, “Remember that motto from the 1970s… ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’?”
In his interview with The Daily Beast, Null would not say whether he himself had chosen to be vaccinated.
“I’m not going to say and I don’t ask other people,” he said.
But despite his disavowals of telling anybody what to do, the subtext of his talk of deaths and sabotaged immune systems was that his listeners would be well advised to reject the current vaccines.
In the view of the prominent medical doctor behind the anti-scam website Quackwatch, such messaging makes Null a serious threat to public health.
“He’s one of many people who basically say, ‘You can’t trust medical science, you should trust me,” Dr. Stephen Barrett told The Daily Beast.
“I think he probably believes what he says,” Barrett said. “Or most of it.”
But Barrett does not think that means Null is less of a menace .
“Many people believe him,” Barrett said. “And that makes him extremely dangerous.”
The Null protégée who liked to say she was going to live forever was cremated. Frank figures on taking her ashes to Spain and other places she always wanted to visit, but never got the chance.
“She had so much more life to live,” Frank said. “I honestly think if she would have been vaccinated, it’d be a different story.”
But he did not place the ultimate blame on Null.
“This thing is, I don’t care who it was, she didn’t want to get vaccinated,” he said.
Frank was not surprised to hear that Null refused to say whether he himself had been vaccinated.
“I think he’ll take that to his grave,” Frank said.
On Thursday, Frank called The Daily Beast with sad news: his father Buzz, who had hoped to reopen Buzz-a-Rama one day soon, had died the day before.
“I really think he died of a broken heart,” Frank said. "He didn’t want to live without her. At least they’re together again.”