Well, here’s an amazing story that popped up on Facebook today: Erik Smith, the former WXYZ-TV anchor and longtime Brighton Township resident, says he was once close friends with the most notorious cult leader of all time.
Smith shared a photo of a Christmas present he received from his daughter, and in the post, he revealed something that he’s apparently never talked about before: That he was close friends with cult leader Jim Jones.
Jones, of course, was the leader of a cult known as the Peoples Temple. In 1978, he led 918 followers to their death in Jonestown, Guyana, by telling them to drink Kool-Aid that was laced with cyanide. You can read his story here.
What has apparently never been revealed before is that right at the time, Jones had struck up a friendship with Smith, who was working at the time as a reporter for KPIX-TV in San Francisco, where the Peoples Temple was based.
Smith worked at KPIX in the 1970s before making the move to Detroit, where he was a fixture at WXYZ until his retirement in 2010.
Smith explained their friendship in his Facebook post today:
“Because I was on TV in S.F. he followed my stories about people and things needing help. He would call me and say “Let’s fix this” … and together we would try to help. His money saved things like animal shelters, drug abuse victims etc.”
It went much deeper than that, too. Smith said that Jones had strongly encouraged him to visit the compound in Guyana where the mass suicide occurred.
“He wanted me to come visit Jonestown and report on his vision of communal Utopia. My employer KPIX refused to pay for the trip. Jones then offered to pay my way, but the station was leery of letting me and my cameraman go. (There’s much more to this story).”
Smith said that Jones wanted him to be on the trip that took place in November of 1978 (right before the mass suicide), when Congressman Leo Ryan led a delegation to Guyana to investigate the cult. Five people in Ryan’s party ended up getting gunned down on the airport tarmac by Jones’ fanatic followers.
Among the people killed was Bob Brown, an NBC cameraman who was also working as Smith’s cameraman at KPIX.
Smith said that had KPIX not refused to let him go on the trip, “I might have been shot to death along with Congressman Ryan, his assistant, and my cameraman Bobby Brown on the airplane tarmac at Jonestown.”
This was Smith’s reaction at the time when he heard the news:
Smith is well-known not just in the Detroit area but also in his hometown of Brighton Township, where he has been active in the community for decades. In the 1980s, he served as the chairman of the Brighton Township Planning Commission.