Derek Humphry’s 1991 best-selling guide to suicide, Final Exit, has been accused of inspiring many deeds, but until Michael Viner’s Final Exit for Barney, an act of humor wasn’t one of them. “We were recording Final Exit in the studio [for an audiobook], and I thought it was in too good taste,” says Viner, the ex-president of MGM Records who founded Dove Audio with his wife, actress Deborah Raffin. “So we decided to take a sick idea and make it sicker.
Viner, who had noticed that every parent he knew “began to twitch when you say ‘Barney,’” had plenty of help writing his book of one-liners about the purple dinosaur. “As soon as I started, everyone had suggestions — I think we had 100,000 contributors.” For research purposes, Viner and coconspirators Susie Dotan and Tim Foley steered away from the character and concentrated on the news. “As things happened like Whitewater, we plagiarized as quickly as possible and added them on,” he says of the six-week project. The resulting one-to-a-page illustrated murder tips include “Send [Barney] to Dr. Kevorkian for a check-up,” “Tell Lorena Bobbitt he cheated on her,” and “Have him adopt Lyle and Erik Menendez.”
The book, with 100,000 copies in print, went back to press twice before its publication in May, and has received glowing blurbs from the likes of Dave Barry (“This is disgusting. The author should get a federal grant”) and Sidney Sheldon. But not everyone gets the joke. “There’s a society for the prevention of cruelty to Barney, and they picketed in front of my office,” says Viner. “I don’t think they were kidding.” Still, it will take more than scare tactics to distract Viner from his mission. “People feel Barney’s unthreatening,” he says, “But he could lead grown-ups to drugs.”