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Inspired question, 'Book of Mormon' musical leads to former California mayor's conversion

Published: Monday, May 13 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

The sisters, Sister Kathryn Jones and Sister Jenna Davis with Richard Marcus around Christmas time.

Courtesy photo, Jenna Davis

For 35 years, Richard Marcus couldn’t remember going to bed without a drink.

Night after night, the California resident and former mayor of Culver City, Calif., would pour himself a drink or two and lie down to sleep. But on Oct. 20, 2012, Marcus recognized that something was different.

“I put the glass to my lips and the Spirit was gone like that,” Marcus said with a snap of his fingers. “I had gone from someone who was Spirit-filled and now I had nothing.”

Marcus, a married father of two, had spent the weekend watching sessions of the October 2012 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over and over, taking notes, trying to comprehend the messages of modern-day apostles.

The stark contrast between the Spirit he felt during the course of the day and the absence of it that night was riveting for Marcus. He knew he had some changing to do.

Marcus finished his liquor that night and put down the empty glass. It was the last one he had.

Two weeks later, Marcus was sitting in the doctor’s office for an annual check-up. He reported giving up drinking without experiencing a single negative side effect. As a self-described "high-functioning alcoholic," this was an incredible feat.

“That’s miraculous,” Marcus’ doctor said.

Marcus only smiled.

“That’s an interesting choice of words,” Marcus told his doctor. “Do you have about 15 minutes?”

He then proceeded to tell his doctor about the events that had occupied his life the few months prior to that fateful night in late October.

It all started June 2012 with a colleague from Arizona named Paula Gorbutt.

Gorbutt and Marcus met at a business convention in Las Vegas and formed a friendship based on their mutual political interests. Marcus works in finance but had been on the Culver City Council for years and served as mayor.

“You know I’m a Mormon, right?” Gorbutt asked Marcus.

He didn’t. And the question took him by surprise.

While he couldn’t understand why Gorbutt had asked the question, it didn’t stop the cogs in his head from turning. Over the next few months, Marcus found himself with an unending supply of questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Marcus had done some research on Mormon.org, even liked it on Facebook and spent hours talking with Gorbutt about his questions.

One day, a friend called offering an extra ticket to the musical, “The Book of Mormon,” which was playing in Los Angeles. Marcus accepted.

“I was looking for anything I could,” he said. “I knew it was a goof, a spoof, a satire, but I thought, ‘I don’t have anything. Maybe I should check that out.’”

Marcus attended the irreverent, off-color but critically acclaimed musical at the Pantages Theatre in early September.

"I wanted even more to find out what this was all about,” Marcus said.

After the show, Marcus was buying souvenirs when he saw it: a book sitting on the counter titled "The Book of Mormon." He bought it, but to his dismay, learned that it was simply the script for the musical.

His questions continued, and finally Gorbutt told him it was time for a visit from the missionaries. Though he was a little hesitant, Marcus did not protest.

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