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A Trip Down Memory Lane

Doug Bruce's amnesia claim made him the toast of New York and the subject of a documentary,
Doug Bruce's amnesia claim made him the toast of New York and the subject of a documentary, "Unknown White Male." (Wellspring)

"I was telling his story," he says at one point. "Not your story, not the story of a journalist. The story of a friend, and I don't have to [freaking] prove anything to anyone."

Murray would walk out of this interview in a low-boil rage about 20 minutes later, with the cinematic exit line, "I am not a [freaking] sociopath." (He was dismissing the possibility that he and Bruce cooked up the whole thing together.) When he calls to apologize the next day, he says he's simply tired of questions about the truth of "Unknown White Male."

So, it seems, are Bruce's many supporters.

"I really want to be explicit," says Stephen Frailey, who heads the photography department at the School of Visual Arts, where Bruce was enrolled before and after the alleged incident. "I believe completely in this event. I watched people go up to Doug after it happened and say hello, people he knew, and he just looked blank. You could see it in his eyes. He was completely lost."

In the movie and in phone interviews, friends and family say that the pre-amnesia Bruce was a slightly arrogant, hard-edged cynic, and had been his whole life. Raised in Nigeria, where his father managed a series of businesses, and educated at a boarding school in England, he'd dropped out of college in his twenties and apparently earned millions in Paris courtesy of the stock market. In 1999, he retired from the

business world, moved to Manhattan and enrolled in a four-year course in photography.

"He seemed like this typical kind of total Eurotrash banker dude," says Nadine Adamson, the woman who claimed Bruce at Coney Island Hospital. "He was chasing models, had this big loft, 'let's go to Biarritz.' For a few seconds, it was appealing."

The pair had gone out a few times before the alleged incident, while she was living at her mom's place. (The number in Bruce's knapsack was for Adamson's mother.) Uninterested, Adamson stopped returning Bruce's calls. But once beckoned to the hospital that day in July, she helped ease Bruce back into the world. Adamson's pals thought she was getting hoodwinked by a guy who wanted a second shot at bedding her, but she says they kept it platonic.

"He didn't know his way around his own apartment," says Adamson, who now lives in London and remains a firm believer in Bruce. "It was like dealing with a child. He lost a lot of his cockiness. He became nicer."

This is a refrain you hear often: Bruce's story must be real because he is transformed. Word spread about this beatific man-child who was discovering chocolate mousse, rock-and-roll, cinema and history all over again. He claimed to have lost episodic memory (the story of his life), as well as much of his semantic memory (knowledge of the world), while retaining most procedural memory (the ability to swim, for instance). Bruce could use chopsticks, but he couldn't remember eating sushi, and said he had a weird jumble of facts at his disposal. He knew the names of some cities in Australia, for instance, but nothing about the attacks of 9/11.

Adamson introduced him to a friend named Richard Brown, a British film producer who lives in Manhattan, and the two became friends. Within days, Brown was interviewing Bruce on video; about eight minutes of that footage appears in the movie. He introduced his subject to a rarefied stratum of pals and acquaintances in the film and music industries. Even among celebrities, at any dinner or gathering where the story came up, Bruce took center stage.

And the story, it seems, always came up. Bruce would inevitably stammer something like, "I'm sorry, who is Bono?" and, bingo, he was off and running. It wasn't just a fantastic tale. As a man apparently reborn to his senses, Bruce would profess amazement at the mundane in ways that humbled and touched his listeners. He had an almost mystical charisma.

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