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Alex Malarkey was just five years old when he was paralyzed in a car accident with his father, Kevin. Alex spent two months in a coma in 2004, and after waking up, allegedly recounted a tale of being taken through the gates of Heaven, meeting angels, and talking to Jesus and the devil before returning to life.
Kevin apparently sold the story to Tyndale House Publishers, which published "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven," which, to date, has sold over one million copies. Alex, however, has recanted that version of events, and has never seen a dime from the book sales. Now 19 years old and living solely off Social Security, he is suing Tyndale House, claiming appropriation of likeness, invasion of privacy, exploitation of a person with a disability, and defamation.
Not Quite "A True Story"
Alex Malarkey retracted the book's version of his story in 2015, claiming the account of his visit to heaven was fictional and requesting bookstores to remove it from their shelves:
"Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough."
While the stores obliged and Tyndale House took the book out of print, by then they had received a platinum award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association for selling over one million copies of the book. Tyndale House also allegedly sold the television and film rights, yet never compensated Alex from book sales or those deals.
According to the lawsuit, Alex was not a party to the original publishing contract, although he was listed alongside his father as an author. In fact, the Tyndale House won't allow Alex to even view the contract unless he agrees that the agreement is "in effect and binding." The suit claims:
"...despite the fact that Tyndale House made millions of dollars of Alex's identity and an alleged autobiographical story of his life, Tyndale House paid Alex, a paralyzed young man, nothing."
Alex is suing for compensatory damages based on the amount Tyndale House made of sales of the book and the media rights deals, as well as punitive damages based on the appropriation of likeness and invasion of privacy claims. In addition, he's asking for triple the amount of value the publisher obtained from publication and media rights.