About an hour into the 1997 sci-fi movie "Contact," President Clinton gives a press conference announcing that a team of scientists, led by Jodie Foster's fiery astronomer Dr. Ellie Arroway, has received a mysterious encoded message from the distant star system Vega.
America, needless to say, goes nuts.
Swarms of tinfoil-wearing alien “believers,” religious zealots and ordinary crazy people gather in the New Mexico desert outside of the Very Large Array, a collection of supersized radio telescopes used to detect the interstellar email message.
Driving through the crowd in her white SUV, Foster takes in the chaotic scene — an Elvis impersonator playing “Viva la Vega,” a fire-and-brimstone preacher denouncing “science” and a large banner attached to the side of a van reading “UFO Abduction Insurance: Courtesy of the St. Lawrence Agency.”
While 99 percent of the script for "Contact" is pure science fiction — the movie was based on a novel by the late Carl Sagan — that banner is 100 percent real.
Meet Mike St. Lawrence, a Florida businessman who started selling alien abduction insurance policies back in 1987. The policy, which can be purchased online for $19.95 (or $9.95 for a digital copy) pays out $10 million (at a rate of $1 a year “for life”) to anyone who can prove they've been snatched by aliens.
“The ["Contact"] producers called me six months before the movie came out,” St. Lawrence says. “They were going to use one of my policies with Bill Clinton as policyholder and Hillary as the beneficiary, but they decided to use the banner.”
The free publicity was good for business. St. Lawrence won't disclose exactly how many policies he's sold over the decades, but admits it's been enough to “put my dog through obedience school.”
If it isn't clear by now, St. Lawrence is not a fully licensed and bonded insurance agent, and his abduction policy is meant to be a gold-embossed novelty item for an avid "X-Files" fan, not a sound financial investment. The “terms and conditions” of St. Lawrence's UFO abduction policy include the “Texas IQ Test”:
Do you have a sense of humor?
Do you take this coverage seriously?
Were your parents related before they were married?
(If you answer yes more than once, you do not qualify.)
Even if he's a prankster, St. Lawrence is a man of his word. He has paid out at least one claim, made to a New York man who produced proof of his abduction, an implant confirmed by an MIT scientist to be “not made from any earthly substance.” (St. Lawrence says he talked to the scientist.) The man received an annual Christmas card stuffed with a dollar bill until St. Lawrence lost track of his address.
A London brokerage firm made headlines in 1997 when it was revealed that it had sold $1,000-worth of alien abduction policies to the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult. Those were the unfortunate folks who committed mass suicide in an attempt to be beamed up to a spaceship purportedly traveling in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet.
The British company, called Goodfellow Rebecca Ingrams Pearson (or GRIP), also carried other unconventional policies, including protections against virgin birth, transformation into a werewolf, and “Bobbitting” (it was the '90s ... you had to be there).