How Glenn Close’s father became Mobutu’s personal doctor

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How Glenn Close’s father became Mobutu’s personal doctor

Curtis Abraham tells the story of how Dr William T. Close, the father of the Hollywood actress Glenn Close, became the doctor of the Congolese president, Mobutu Sese Seko, and how Mobutu’s largesse rubbed off in paying for the wedding of Dr Close’s now famous actress daughter.

In 1969 the famed Hollywood actress and six-time Academy Award nominee, Glenn Close, had set her sights on holy matrimony. But the budding actress, who had spent much of her childhood in the political cauldron of the newly independent Belgian Congo and later touring the world with the Moral Re-Armament singing group “Up with People”, was unable to afford the Greenwich, Connecticut, wedding befitting her pedigree.

Her father was a descendant of the prominent Taliaferros family who settled in Virginia in the 17th century, and her maternal grandfather was Charles Arthur Moore, part of the well-known American manufacturers, Manning, Maxwell and Moore. So, in stepped Joseph Desire Mobutu Sese Seko.

By the late 1960s Close’s father, the American surgeon Dr William Taliaferros Close (or Bill Close for short) had already spent close to a decade in the employ of Mobutu as the president’s personal physician. More importantly, Dr Close and Mobutu had become intimate friends; drinking pink champagne and vintage cognac together in the presidential palace in Kinshasa and taking cruises together on Mobutu’s boat that sailed the vast and meandering River Congo. Mobutu watched as Bill Close provided medical care to impoverished Congolese villagers.

So, when Close and his wife, Bettine Moore, found it difficult to pay for the wedding of their actress daughter, Mobutu stepped in and offered to pay Bill Close an astonishing (at that time) $40,000 for his decade of service to him and the people of Congo, as well as an annual $20,000 retainer fee for his medical services.

Not only was Glenn Close’s wedding to Cabot Wade well catered for, but Bill Close was also able to make a downpayment on a ranch in the US state of Wyoming, where he would spend the remainder of his life until his death in 2009 from a heart attack. 

Dr Peter Piot, the Belgian former undersecretary general of the United Nations and ex-executive director of UNAIDS, confirms in his new book, No Time to Lose that, when he worked in Congo trying to save the country from the deadly Ebola virus in 1976, he became very close to Dr Bill Close. Piot writes in his memoir, published this year: 

“Bill Close … had come to Congo just before Independence as a missionary worker, though he was a trained physician. Somehow he became President Mobutu’s personal physician as well as director of the biggest hospital in the country, Mama Yemo Hospital in Kinshasa (it was named for Mobutu’s mother).

“But this didn’t fully explain the extent of his power and influence in Zaire. He was a mysterious man, thoroughly likable, with an unmatched knowledge of Zaire and connections at all levels in society. A year later, he left Zaire, disillusioned by the Mobutu regime. We stayed in touch until his death in Wyoming in 2009.”     

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