In 2010, Alex Malarkey co-wrote ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,’ with his father about a trip he took to Heaven after a car accident placed him in a coma when he was just six years old.
Malarkey’s memoir detailed the visions of Heaven he experienced when he was in his coma, one even including meeting God.
The book went on to sell over a million copies and kicked off a series of books in which authors claimed that they had visited Heaven during a near-death experience. Some of these included 90 Minutes in Heaven, Flight to Heaven, To Heaven and Back, and Miracles From Heaven.
Ruth Graham, a journalist for Slate, recently wrote a lengthy piece on what took place following Malarkey’s memoir collapse, which is much more devastating than just a broken book deal.
In 2015, Malarkey admitted in an open letter that, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” disclosing that he made up the stories about going to Heaven and meeting God.
“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. People have profited from lies, and continue to,” he added.
The book was quickly pulled from shelves, and Alex’s family began to fall apart. His dad, Kevin, fell off the map completely, with The Washington Post even falsely reporting in 2018 that he had died.
According to Graham’s reporting, the drama did not stop with the open letter in 2015, but just continued to worsen following the publishing.
The money from the book dried up, Alex’s parents got divorced, and they are embroiled in a lawsuit against Tyndale for defamation and exploitation.
Alex, now 21-years-old, currently lives with his mother Beth who is “on the verge of being homeless.”
Beth and Alex claim that it was Kevin who exploited Alex’s coma and used it as an opportunity to make money. Kevin, who also spoke with Graham, disagreed, saying that he simply relayed what his son had told him at the time.
As reported by The Washington Post, Kevin’s lawsuit against Tyndale Publishing mainly paints his father as the actor behind the story.
“Kevin Malarkey … concocted a story that, during the time Alex was in a coma, he had gone to Heaven, communicated with God the Father, Jesus, angels, and the devil, and then returned,” the complaint says. “Kevin Malarkey sold the concocted story, allegedly about Alex’s life and what Alex allegedly experienced, to one of the largest Christian publishers in the country.”
As Graham points out in her article, because it is one testimony against another, it creates confusion in deciding the outcome of the complaint.
“What happened after Kevin signed that contract is at the heart of the conflict still swirling around the book: Who wrote what, and what did they really believe about what they were writing?” Graham wrote.
While Alex and his mother deny the entire experience, his father Kevin still believes that it boils down to: “Alex either lied when he was six or when he was 18.”
Kevin emphasized how surprised he was when Alex said he fabricated the story and was told at the same time the rest of the world was in 2015.
While Kevin expressed his firm opinion that either his son fabricated the story, or was lying in the present time, Alex told Graham that he didn’t write the book, nor does he even know what is in it.
“I didn’t write it,” Alex told me. “I have no idea what’s in it. I don’t know what I said.”
In the end, Graham pointed out that it was odd that Alex had no say what went into the book.
“A ghostwriter hired to polish the book told me he spoke with Kevin often and interviewed other sources, including doctors who had been involved with Alex’s care,” Graham wrote. “But he found it odd that his requests to interview Beth were brushed off by Kevin. The ghostwriter never spoke with Alex either.”
“In the end, his draft was rejected by Kevin through Tyndale. The draft that was published was written by Kevin himself,” she added.
Alex told Graham that the entire thing “got blown out of proportion,” partially due to his age.
What the professionals have to say about the fabricated story
Vander Zicht, who retired from Zondervan last year after 33 years, pointed out that even though they trust writers with what they produce as being true, it is important to still do thorough research before publishing something as sensitive as ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.’
“As Christians, we believe in miracles and believe in angels, but you have to make sure the source is credible,” Vander Zicht said.
She shared her own personal story of turning down an opportunity to publish a similar nonfiction account of Heaven, based on the experience of a young child.
“I felt the book shouldn’t be published until the boy was old enough to tell it himself,” she said. “I suspected it would be a bestseller, but I was uneasy.”
Justin Peters, a evangelist who is friends with the Malarkley’s, but highly critical of the Heaven genre, has tried to convince publishers to stop pushing out Heaven-related books.
“You didn’t have to be a theological whiz to immediately see problems with these books,” said Peters.
The current state of the book drama
Not only did the book cause a rift in Beth and Kevin’s marriage, but also amongst the siblings. After Beth and Kevin divorced, Alex stayed with Beth, and the three other siblings went with their dad.
When Graham asked Kevin why he disappeared following Alex’s admittance that the experience was fake, he explained it was because God told him to be silent.
“All it would do was make Alex look worse, make Beth look worse,” he said to Graham. “Alex either lied when he was 6 or when he was 18.”
Aaron, Alex’s older brother, told Graham that he felt betrayed when Alex recanted his experience in visiting Heaven. This is partially because it has painted his father in a horrible light, but also because it has made him question his brother.
“There’s been a lot of false testimony and lies—flat-out lies—in the public eye about my dad,” Aaron told Graham.
“I remember very clearly, my dad would ask Alex, ‘Are you absolutely sure you want me to put this in the book?’ There were times he’d say yes and times he’d say no, and my dad would follow,” Aaron pointed out.
Aaron, like his father, still believes Alex’s story saying, “even when my faith has been iffy, I never doubted it was true.”