Heyerdahl Jr also in the spotlight

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Last week’s release of the new Norwegian film Kon-Tiki has thrust the son of the legendary Kon-Tiki captain Thor Heyerdahl back into the limelight – and into a new family quarrel. He seems to mostly be enjoying all the fuss, but claims his mother was the real adventurer.

Thor Heyerdahl Jr at the first public showing of the film "Kon-Tiki" at the film festival in Haugesund. PHOTO: Filmweb

“She was the tougher of the two,” Thor Heyerdahl Jr told newspaper Dagsavisen, referring to his father’s first wife, Liv Coucheron Torp Heyerdahl. “My father was often seen as the adventurer, but he really wasn’t. He lived an adventurous life, but that’s something else.”

Heyerdahl Jr, age 75, has been much in the media in Norway in recent weeks, in connection with festivities and some controversy around the film that’s been playing to sold-out cinemas all over the country. He has praised the film as offering a realistic portrayal of his parents as they met and fell in love in Norway, traveled to a remote island in the South Pacific “to live like Adam and Eve,” and then wound up in exile in Canada during World War II. Heyerdahl trained with Norwegian troops at the camp known as “Little Norway” and the family (by then Thor Jr and his brother Bjørn, known as Bamse, had been born) couldn’t return to occupied Norway until the war was over.

Heyerdahl Jr said his mother wound up divorced and alone with the two boys before Heyerdahl won fame and fortune with the book “Kon-Tiki” and the documentary that later won an Academy Award. She eventually married James “Pebble” Rockefeller, though, and moved to New York but died of cancer at the age of 53. Thor Heyerdahl Sr died in Italy, where he’d been living, in 2002.

Conflict over new expedition plans
Newspaper VG reported over the weekend that Thor Jr and his brother Bjørn are now caught in a conflict over Bjørn’s plans to mount a new “Kon-Tiki” expedition with controversial and contemporary Norwegian adventurer Jarle Andhøy, who recently got in trouble over his unauthorized trips to the South Pole.

“This came as much of a surprise to me and the Kon-Tiki Museum (of which he’s chairman) as for everyone else,” Heyerdahl Jr told VG. “We haven’t been oriented about it (the proposed voyage) at all. My father gave the name “Kon-Tiki” to the the foundation for the Kon-Tiki Museum. No one else has a right to use it (without permission) outside of the museum.”

Both Thor Jr and Bjørn were at the royal premiere of the film last week but reportedly didn’t speak to one another. Bjørn Heyerdahl told VG he also was upset that Thor Jr had spoken to newspaper Dagbladet about their father’s many extra-marital affairs. Thor Jr claims he was misunderstood by the newspaper and that his father wasn’t a “skirt-chaser,” but had many “intermezzos.” The elder Heyerdahl was married three times and many of his children and grandchildren attended the film’s premiere in Oslo as well.

Thor Heyerdahl Jr, meanwhile, has been married to his wife Grete for 44 years and is now mostly retired and living in Lillehammer, where he still lectures in science at the local high school. He’s worked as a marine researcher most of his life, in northern Norway and Bergen. On Thursday he and his wife sat at the same table with King Harald and Queen Sonja at dinner following the film premiere.

“I was very relieved by how well my parents were portrayed,” he said, unlike how another key crew member was. “I had been very determined that no one else’s portrayal of them would disturb the good memories I have in my heart,” he told Dagsavisen. He said he was proud of his father, “but also deeply grateful that I inherited my mother’s ability to be concerned with others than myself.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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