The last time I was bailed up and ranted to by great uncle Anson I followed the generally accepted convention of nodding quietly and on no account suggesting his screwball proclamations were that of a mad man, lest you get added to his extensive ‘enemies’ list and disowned and never spoken to again, which all things considered often presented as a better option than being bailed up and ranted to.

In my family there is a running joke – an affliction known as ‘Szaszy madness.’ It lives in all of us to some degree, but no one would argue against the claim that Anson got biggest dose.

Born in Istanbul in January 1936, Anson Szaszy was the seventh and last child of Hungarian parents. The family dispersed after the war, with Anson, his sister Gloria, brother Steve and their mother settling in Wellington, New Zealand. He was bullied at school and his mother died of cancer when he was 19. While Gloria married and had children – my mother being the eldest – Anson remained single; a loner, living in a series of bedsits, rooming houses, freezing hovels of almost unimaginable slum; shameful, scarcely believable conditions in a capital city of a first world country. But no matter, Anson was on a mission. He became interested in science. He studied medical textbooks on vitamins, minerals and nutrition, acquired a self-taught understanding of the health impacts of what we put in our bodies, then came to completely wrong conclusions.

At the heart of his grand theory was that you could live forever if you consumed the right vitamins and minerals. You could join the ranks of the ‘supreme beings’ and stay young and fit for as long as you liked. He called it ‘the drive to evolve to superior evolutionary levels.’ On releases of his findings he awarded himself a title: Detective Scientist on Natural and Supernatural Laws and Supernatural Evolution.

The problem though was getting access to the required vitamins and minerals. The government, the drug lords, even his own family conspired to withhold access to the elixir of life. He did get his hands of the secret formula once, in the 1970s, after which for a brief period he became young again. His hair grew back in luscious locks, he could run up hills without puffing, see for miles. But then Dr Drugs clamped down on supply and now the only people who can obtain the good stuff are a small collective of supreme beings living somewhere in the north of England.

Anson also busied himself with recreation. He lugged bags of concrete on the number 32 bus down to the south coast, where he concreted in rock pools in an attempt to make sea baths, a project that spanned decades. He tried to teach his cats to walk on two legs. He wrote letters to the Prime Minister, the newspapers (always unpublished), and his sister Magda, who would send him occasional cheques to supplement his government benefit. My grandmother and him fell out often but usually reconciled, but two years ago Anson cut ties altogether with the family. We were the enemy. We refused to believe eternal life could be achieved though nutrition alone. We were too inferior in our beliefs for him to bother with. We thought he had to die.

Anson’s body was found in a laneway not far from his council flat a few weeks ago in Wellington. He was 80 years old. The autopsy suggested a massive heart attack. I’m not sure whether his death dispelled or vindicated his beliefs, nor can I say for sure that he was crazy. The things he believed in were no nuttier than the beliefs of billions of religious followers the world over, accepted as ‘normal,’ presumably on the basis of sheer numbers. Anson merely acted alone.

It took police three days to work out who he was, track down his next of kin and deliver the news to my grandmother, now 93, now the last remaining sibling. Last of the Szaszys.