Charles E. Dederich

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Biographical Information

Charles E. Dederich, a reformed alcoholic who founded Synanon, the drug rehabilitation program that won widespread acclaim and amassed great wealth before it became associated with violence, died in 1997. "Founded in 1958 with a $33 unemployment check in a seedy flat in Ocean Park, Calif., Synanon eventually attracted thousands of drug addicts and dropouts from the social turbulence of the 1960's to therapeutic communities for a course of tough, innovative treatment.

Crime is stupid, delinquency is stupid and the use of narcotics is stupid, Mr. Dederich once said. What Synanon is dealing with is addiction to stupidity.

"Synanon and its methods became the subject of books, articles, television documentaries and a 1965 film, Synanon, which starred Edmond O'Brien as Mr. Dederich and Eartha Kitt as his third wife, Bettye.

"By 1980, with millions of dollars in donations from American businesses, vast real estate holdings, overseas branches and its own lucrative enterprises Synanon, which was exempt from Federal and state taxes as a charitable trust, had compiled assets of $30 million to $50 million, according to the estimates of law-enforcement authorities.

"But the organization, which claimed credit for thousands of rehabilitations, evolved from a renowned drug rehabilitation agency into what California officials described as a wealthy, authoritarian cult... By the middle of the 1980's, when the organization declared itself a religion, was condemned by the Government for a corporate policy of terror and violence and was stripped of its tax-exempt status, Synanon was declining in influence and prestige. "[1]


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  1. nyt Charles Dederich, 83, Synanon Founder, Dies, organizational web page, accessed April 12, 2013.