Lori and George Schappell, Long-Surviving Conjoined Twins, Die at 62


Lori and George Schappell, conjoined twins whose skulls were partly fused but who managed to lead independent lives, died on April 7 in Philadelphia. They were 62.

Their death, at a hospital, was announced by a funeral home, which did not cite a cause.

Dr. Christopher Moir, a professor of surgery at the Mayo Clinic, who has been on teams that separated six sets of conjoined twins — although none of them were joined at the head — said that when one of the Schappells died, the other would have almost certainly followed quickly.

“Conjoined twins share circulation,” he said, “so unless you somehow emergently divide their connection, it’s absolutely a fatal, nonviable process.”

The Schappells lived much longer than had been expected when they were born as craniopagus twins, joined at the head, which is rare. They were cited as the second-oldest conjoined twins ever by Guinness World Records.

They were connected at the sides of their foreheads and looked in opposite directions. Lori was able-bodied and pushed George, who had spina bifida, on a stool that had wheels. George was born female and changed her name in the 1990s to Reba, for the country singer Reba McEntire, but later identified as a trans male.

They insisted, adamantly, that they were distinct people.

“We’re two human beings who were brought into the world connected at one area of the body,” Lori said in a short ITV documentary in 1997. “This is a condition that happened through birth, and people have to learn to understand that. When they see this” — she gestured to their conjoined heads — “all they see is this.”

She added: “There is much more to Reba and I than this. Get past this already, everybody, get past it and learn to know the individual person.”

Lori worked at a hospital laundry in the 1990s and enjoyed bowling.

George performed country music in the United States and abroad; won a Los Angeles Music Award for best new country artist in 1997; and sang “The Fear of Being Alone” over the closing credits of “Stuck on You” (2003), a comedy directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly that starred Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined twins.

The Schappells had been hired as technical consultants on the film, but when the Farrellys learned about Reba’s musical talent, they added her rendition of “The Fear of Being Alone,” a song Ms. McIntire recorded in 1996, The Los Angeles Times reported. Reba Schappell also made a video of the song.

In 2002, Reba appeared on “The Jerry Springer Show,” singing “Dr. Talk,” a song that Mr. Springer wrote and recorded in 1995. The audience stood and clapped as she performed.

They gave each other space for their pursuits. Reba told BBC Radio in 2006, “When I am singing, Lori is like another fan, except she’s up onstage with me (covered by a blanket to reduce the distraction).”

On the Springer show, the twins noted that Lori dated men, and they discussed the logistics.

During Lori’s dates, Reba said, “I wasn’t there in my mind. I was there bodily. I didn’t look at anything or say anything.”

Lori added, “You really forget she’s there.”

Lori said that she went only so far with men: “As for anything beside cuddling or kissing, I won’t go further. I will give up my virginity on my wedding night.”

Lori, who dated men, added, “I’ve shared intimacy before.”

They were born on Sept. 18, 1961, in West Reading, Pa., two of eight children of Franklin and Ruth Schappell. Their doctor gave them a year to live.

“Then he put it up to we won’t live past 2 or we won’t live past 3,” Lori told The Los Angeles Times in 2002. “Each year he was wrong. We were saying the other day, if he could see us now, we’re 41 and we’re still here.”

At an early age, the twins were placed in an institution for the intellectually disabled in Reading, according to a 2005 article in New York magazine.

“Because they were not retarded, they helped the caregivers there make beds and feed other children, Ellen Weissbrod, who directed “Face to Face: The Schappell Twins,” a 2000 documentary, said by phone.

The Schappells were institutionalized for more than 20 years until they met Ginny Thornburgh, the wife of Gov. Dick Thornburgh of Pennsylvania, in the 1980s. Ms. Thornburgh was an activist for the disabled, and Governor Thornburgh closed down some state institutions for developmentally disabled people.

Relaying her memories of the Schappells through Governor Thornburgh’s former press secretary, Paul Kritchlow, Ms. Thornburgh said it was clear from talking to the Schappells that they were not intellectually disabled and did not belong in the facility. She spoke to the facility’s chaplain, who helped move them into senior housing in Reading.

Ms. Thornburgh later invited them to have lunch with her at the governor’s residence in Harrisburg. She also visited them in their apartment.

They are survived by their father; their sisters, Denise Schappell, Brenda Zellers and Patti Cahill; and their brothers, Rodney, Dennis and Gregory. Their mother died in 2019.

The Schappell twins said that they never wanted to be surgically separated, and that they did not wish they had been born apart.

“Our parents instilled in us from the day we were old enough to know better and to understand what they were saying,” Lori told ITV, “that God did this for a purpose.”


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