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California Artist With ALS Holds Party Before Ending Her Life: ’She Wanted Everyone to Take a Betsy Souvenir’

Betsy Davis
Betsy Davis

Betsy Davis invited her close friends and loved ones to a two-day gathering at a beautiful private home in Ojai, California, in July. “These circumstances are unlike any party you have ever attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness,” her email invitation read, according to the Associated Press.

The reason for the get-together: Davis, who was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in July 2013, wanted to say goodbye. At the end of the weekend, she ended her life with the help of California’s recently passed right-to-die law. 

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Davis didn’t want anyone focusing on her illness at her farewell, which is why there were cocktails, pizza, tamales (her favorite food!), live music and a screening of one of her favorite movies, The Dance of Reality.

“She wanted everyone to take a Betsy souvenir and that included her clothes,” Davis’ sister, journalist Kelly Davis, tells Us Weekly. “People were really hesitant at first, and then they started trying them on and going down to her for approval. Some of the guys started modeling dresses just to make her laugh, and it turned into this fun fashion show.”

Kelly continues: “There was never any sitting around and feeling sad. It was just kind of constant everyone having a good time.”

Davis, 41 at the time of her death, referred to the party — which took place on July 23 and 24 — as a “rebirth.” 

“You’re all very brave for sending me off on my journey,” the California-based artist and graphic designer wrote in her invitation. “There are no rules. Wear what you want, speak your mind, dance, hop, chant, sing, pray, but do not cry in front of me. OK, one rule.” 

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Davis tells Us she broke the rule. “I was the one who would tear up when I saw Betsy talking to her friends,” Kelly says. “But other people were really good with that. They prepared themselves and they all had such good attitudes.”

In a column for Voice of San Diego, Kelly described ALS as an incurable and “cruel disease that slowly robs a person of the ability to move, speak, eat and eventually, breathe.”

On Sunday, July 24, Betsy was ready for her rebirth. “At around 6:30 p.m. … all three of her truly incredible caregivers helped her change into a kimono she’d bought in Japan,” Kelly wrote in her piece for Voice of San Diego. “A family friend drove her in his new Tesla up a hillside next to the house, where we’d placed a white canopy and a makeshift bed. She wanted to fall asleep as the sun was setting.”

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Then, surrounded by Kelly, her father and a physician, Betsy drank a combination of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate. “She took the medication at around 6:45 p.m. and within a few minutes, slipped into a coma,” Kelly wrote. “Four hours later, she peacefully departed for her next adventure.”

California’s right-to-die law went into effect on June 9.