This morning, I was absolutely devastated to learn the news that former UCLA Bruins basketball player Mike Lanier, who at 7’7” tall is in the Guinness Book of World Records as part of the world’s tallest twins, passed away at the end of April at the far too young age of 48.
According to WOOD TV, he died from pancreatic cancer complicated by acromegaly, the pituitary gland disorder that resulted in his extraordinary height.
The reason I was so shocked is because Mike and I became friends after he transferred to UCLA because Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, Texas had decided to drop from Division I basketball to Division III. We eventually became roommates in Hitch Suites during his senior year in Westwood.
Athletically, his time at UCLA wasn’t particularly remarkable. In his junior year, Mike played in 14 games for the Bruins and averaged just 1.8 points per game and he saw action in just five games during his senior season.
But, Mike was so much more than just a basketball player. He made the most of his time at UCLA by earning his bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
After graduation, he worked in the auto industry and, for the past 20 years, he worked as a Senior Designer in the Powertrain Division at General Motors.
He was an avid movie fan, especially science fiction. He also enjoyed swimming, creating claymation films, and cooking. He even designed his current home.
In 2014, Mike was featured in the movie It Follows as the Giant Man.
While that was the first time he had a featured role, it wasn’t his first acting gig. He also appeared in an episode of the old HBO series Tales From the Crypt. I know because, as the roommate with the car, I gave him a ride to and from the set that day.
Some of my fondest memories of Mike are from when we would just hang out with our other two roommates Bill and Pat or when the four of us, sometimes accompanied by our other friend Steve, would hop in my old gray Pontiac 6000 and make a late night food run. Most of the time, we ended up at the Taco Bell at the corner of Pico Blvd. and Bundy Dr. which was the closest one to campus back in the early 90s.
Some of our best male bonding may have occurred when the four of us decided to head to Bill’s parents’ home in Moorpark after the 1992 LA riots broke out. With all classes cancelled, we spent the better part of four days doing little else but playing Mario Kart and other video games.
To say that Mike was a great guy really doesn’t do him justice. He was one of the nicest guys you would ever meet. And, while we weren’t in touch as much as we should have been, I am glad I got know Mike. He was a good friend.
Mike is survived by his wife Janet and her children Christopher & Kathryn Campbell, his sister Jennifer Toomajian and her husband Michael, his brother Jim and his wife Michele, his brother Gary and his wife Traci and eight nieces and nephews.