Rolling With The Dice Man

Over 40 years since writing his cult novel The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart is still making life choices with the shake of a die. In this exclusive interview he reveals how he dreamt up the concept of 'dice living', how it found him his wife and how he once had to intervene when a fan tried to take it too far...
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Over 40 years since writing his cult novel The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart is still making life choices with the shake of a die. In this exclusive interview he reveals how he dreamt up the concept of 'dice living', how it found him his wife and how he once had to intervene when a fan tried to take it too far...

Most interviews start with a shake of the hand but in the bizarre world of Luke Rhinehart they commence with a shake of a die. Such mores may seem eccentric but not for this 73-year-old New Yorker. After all, he is the high chief of chance, the wizard of whim…the Dice Man. In this instance, Luke announces the result of the throw will determine how much I have to pay him for our powwow. If the number is between two and five, I fork out between £50 and £200 for the interview, but a one means Luke pays me £10 for the privilege. To make things more intriguing, if a six is cast, we take £200 to the casino and put it all on black. A win and we split the proceeds down the middle while a loss is, well, my loss. Once we agree terms, Luke tosses the die and a two comes up. I reach for my wallet...

Some people gamble on cards, others on horses or the roulette wheel. American author Luke Rhinehart gambles with his life. Since his teenage years until the completion of his novel The Dice Man in 1971 and beyond, Rhinehart has insisted on making key decisions in his life on the throw of the dice. His book – about a New York psychotherapist also called Luke Rhinehart who also submits his free will to the roll of the dice - remains an underground classic and mysteriously sells more today than ever before. The legend on The Dice Man’s jacket claim’s ‘This book will change your life’ but this is no PR puffery. Since it first appeared 35 years ago, the cult novel has successfully persuaded a number of its readers to convert to the dice life. So, should you be considering reading The Dice Man - and are already of a gambling bent – consider this to be the publisher’s equivalent of a government health warning.

“To use chance to affect the outcome of your life is the ultimate form of gambling,” explains Luke. “You can make the stakes high or low. You can use the dice to choose what film you’re going to see or what restaurant you’re going to eat at. That’s a two dollar bet. Or you can use it to decide which woman you’re going to go out with. That’s a five dollar bet. Then again you can roll the dice to see if you’re going to quit your job or not. Maybe that’s a trifecta bet.”

He felt the dice could be a way of liberating people from the constraints imposed on them by their own boring personalities.

Letting chance affect the outcome of your life may be the ultimate form of gambling but it can also take you down some unusual paths. As an impressionable 21-year-old, a friend recommended the book to me - the same friend, in fact, who then suggested we list six options for our holidays and let the dice choose. Six weeks later, I find myself in Cartagena, spread-eagled against a taxi with a Colombian cop’s Uzi nestling uncomfortably between my shoulder blades. As I said, the dice can take you down some unusual paths.

No one knows this better than Luke who began playing with his cubes back when he was a teenager and his name was still George Cockroft (he changed his name to Luke Rhinehart to confuse readers into thinking the book was autobiographical). “It all started when I created a baseball game using a pair of dice,” he says in his gravelly, laid-back drawl. “Pretty soon I started making lists of things I wanted to do on a given day and let the die choose from among them. I was indecisive as a teenager and wasn’t able to make up my mind so I let chance make it up for me.” Luke continued dicing off and on through the years but turns a little coy when asked to reveal any details. “I don’t answer questions about my personal life,” he says firmly. “I like to keep the dicing that I may have done in the past a secret and let the dicing that I create in my fiction do my talking.”

“Insane people will make insane decisions whether they use dice or not,” he says. “I don’t feel responsible for the stupid things that people might do with dice any more than I feel responsible for the stupid things they do without the dice.”

Reading the Dice Man, however, you can’t help wondering how much of this incredible story is informed by Luke’s real life exploits. The fictional Luke Rhinehart seduces his neighbour, plays mind games with his patients and hooks his kids on the dice. The real Luke Rhinehart also worked in a mental hospital but insists he never went to such extremes. “I kept it at a very primitive, simple level,” he says, but nevertheless does admit the dice helped him find a wife. “I was driving my car out of the hospital grounds when I spotted two attractive nurses,” he remembers, “but being an inhibited chap at that stage of my life, I drove right by them.” Half a mile up the road, Luke resolved to stop the car and consult the dice. “If the die fell on an odd number, I decided I would go back and try and pick the girls up.” The die fell odd and so he drove back and offered them a ride. “They were on their way to confession but the church was closed so I invited them to play tennis the next day. All game, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the women was tall, long-legged and full bosomed. Eventually I married her.”

By 1966 Luke, now a young, hip, dope-smoking professor of American literature, decided that perhaps his dice games were more significant than he previously thought. He felt the dice could be a way of liberating people from the constraints imposed on them by their own boring personalities. One morning, while teaching a seminar on freedom to some college students, he took the opportunity to share his unorthodox views and the impact was astounding. “ I told them that the ultimate freedom was casting dice to determine what you did with your life and they were so appalled by the idea, or so fascinated, that I realised maybe I was on to something more important that I first thought,” he says. “That’s when I began writing the book.”

Rhinehart finally finished the manuscript four years later but due to an ill-fated dice decision to buy a yacht and sail across the Mediterranean with his wife and three children, he very nearly perished before it was even published. The boat’s motor broke down half way between the South of France and Majorca and they were then hit by a terrifying mistral. Rudder broken and sails slashed, all hope of salvation was practically sunk. “I said goodbye to my wife and apologised to her for dragging her off on this ridiculous journey,” says Luke. “We assumed we were going to die.” And they would have. Probably dashed on the treacherously rocky coast off North Africa. But Lady Luck was smiling on the Dice Man that day and a Scottish freighter, which had been thrown 150 miles off its own course, miraculously turned up to rescue them. Luke’s yacht sank, however, and with it went his whole life’s savings.

Over three decades since it was first published, The Dice Man continues to fascinate new generations of readers, leaving each one with a taste for the anarchic dice life

Even without an untimely death to help boost his legendary status, Luke Rhinehart today is a truly cult figure. He confesses to receiving a constant stream of emails from fans keen to share their own dicing experiences but claims to feel no responsibility for their actions. “Insane people will make insane decisions whether they use dice or not,” he says. “I don’t feel responsible for the stupid things that people might do with dice any more than I feel responsible for the stupid things they do without the dice.” In one instance, however, he did feel inclined to intervene when a particular disturbed fan wrote to him. “He was listing options most of which were very dark and likely to reinforce the worst tendencies in him,” he says. “Although I didn’t feel responsible for him I advised him very strongly against the options he was considering.”

Over three decades since it was first published, The Dice Man continues to fascinate new generations of readers, leaving each one with a taste for the anarchic dice life. Its success has not only motivated Rhinehart to write two other Dice Man novels (The Search for The Dice Man and The Book of The Die) but it has inspired others too. The most recent instance being just a couple of months ago when a play called The Dice House took to a West End stage. Hollywood wants a piece of the dice action too. Paramount, who optioned the book immediately, is now closer than ever before to making the much-anticipated movie and Jack Nicholson, Richard Gere and Nicholas Cage are all desperate to play the lead role. Bruce Willis even asked if he could send in a tape of himself shaking dice. Meanwhile, the book that was once named ‘novel of the century’ by Loaded is now selling in greater quantities and in more countries than ever before, a fact that still completely mystifies its author. “It’s ridiculous,” says Luke. “Perhaps it just shows that if you worship chance it will give you a break now and then.”

Luke Rhinehart’s five golden rules of betting (on your life’s decisions)

1. Don't list an option that you would be unwilling to try to do.

2. Remember: a losing bet could just be the Gods of Chance setting you up for a bigger winner.

3. Always list one long shot as an option because in life one successful long shot can transform everything.

4. Every day cast a die to determine whether or not you gamble that day.

5. Periodically ignore every one of the previous four Golden Rules.

To buy Luke Rineheart's book click the link below.