Philip Coppens, the shaggy-haired speculator whose European accent and irrepressible enthusiasm for all things ancient and mystical made him a mainstay of the Ancient Aliens cable television series, died yesterday in Los Angeles following a brief battle with a rare form of cancer. Coppens had only recently finished filming interviews for the fifth season of Ancient Aliens when he sought treatment for an illness that was eventually diagnosed as angiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood or lymphatic vessel walls.
Coppens, 41, is survived by his wife Kathleen McGowan as well as a body of work that spans multiple nonfiction books, documentaries, and (as coauthor) one novel.
Coppens’ close friend and fellow Ancient Aliens regular Giorgio A. Tsoukalos reported his death on Twitter yesterday afternoon, and Coppens' Twitter feed later confirmed the news. In previous days, Tsoukalos had asked Coppens’ fans to use mental telepathy to cure Coppens’ cancer.
In a blog post published December 16, Coppens expressed his hope that he would be well enough to visit the Egyptian pyramids in preparation for a planned book on their construction. Coppens wrote that in the days leading up to the Maya calendar entering the thirteenth baktun he expected ancient knowledge to provide “insights into life, its value and especially its magical qualities, in the hope that with only a few days before December 21, people, through choice, will embrace a positive change in their life and travel onwards to the next level of their mission, which is the only reason why we have chosen to incarnate here on this lovely, blue water planet.”
Coppens was born Filip Coppens in Belgium on January 25, 1971. He became an investigative journalist and later moved to Scotland, where he lived many years. At the age of 23, he served as the editor of a manuscript on European megaliths by the Belgian historian Marcel Mestdagh, who had died in 1990. Coppens gained from the experience an appreciation of alternative interpretations of history. For a time he endorsed Mestdagh’s eccentric view that Atlantis was headquartered at the site of the French city of Sens, along the English Channel.
In 1995, Coppens became one of the first English-language journalists to report on the existence of pyramids in China, in an article in Australia’s Nexus magazine, which he claimed as his first major alternative history scoop. Coppens’ article closely followed a 1994 book on the pyramids by fellow ancient astronaut writer Hartwig Hausdorf, later translated as The Chinese Roswell in 1998. The Chinese pyramids, under their former identification as burial mounds, were known to scholars since at least 1914 but were not widely discussed outside scholarly circles.
Also in 1995, Coppens founded Frontier 2000, a European magazine devoted to alternative history and esoteric mysteries. The magazine was distributed in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Coppens’ big break came in 1998 when he served as the principle researcher for The Stargate Conspiracy (1999), one of the most influential alternative history books of the 1990s. Written by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, the book argued that Western intelligence agencies and power brokers were involved in a fifty-year conspiracy to direct Western belief systems on behalf of what these powerful individuals believed to be space aliens posing as the gods of ancient Egypt, who in turn were in communication with psychics and cult leaders.
For the next ten years, Coppens wrote articles about ancient astronauts and alternative history, many posted online, as well as a series of books on subjects ranging from ancient astronauts to alternative archaeology to alternative views of Western religions. Most of these books were published by small presses in the United States and England. Nearly all of his books discussed Coppens’ pervasive belief in wide-ranging conspiracies designed to suppress knowledge and keep the public at large ignorant of what he viewed as the true nature of history. One of his most recent works, the 2012 ebook Killing Kennedy, titled to tie in with the 2012 Bill O'Reilly book of the same name, alleged a massive conspiracy and cover-up surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Throughout his early work, Coppens portrayed himself as an honest broker who sought the truth wherever he found it. In many of his early articles published online, he criticized the more extreme aspects of the ancient astronaut theory, the belief that space aliens influenced early human civilization. In his 2000 article “Dogon Shame,” published in the Fortean Times, Coppens claimed that “new evidence” demonstrated that Robert Temple’s 1976 claim that the Dogon tribe of Africa received special knowledge of astronomy from space aliens was wrong. Coppens’ “new evidence” was anthropologist Walter van Beek’s investigation of the Dogon’s star lore—from 1991. The article fully endorsed the claims of the Stargate Conspiracy that Temple was under the influence of the conspiracy representing the alien gods. In the article, Coppens did not reveal his connection to the book, a breach of traditional journalism ethics.
Coppens’ reputation as an honest broker had the ironic effect of limiting his appeal through the mid-2000s, a fallow period for alternative history and ancient astronaut speculation. He was too skeptical for most believers and too credulous for most skeptics. In these lean years after the collapse of the alternative history wave of the 1990s, only the most extreme believers maintained a significant following, and Coppens changed with the times. It was in these years that he anglicized his professional moniker from Filip to Philip. He tried his hand at writing guides to Dan Brown’s popular 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code and tie-in nonfiction titles exploring Code mysteries related to the Templars and the Holy Grail.
Everything changed for him in 2009 when the History Channel commissioned a two-hour documentary entitled Ancient Aliens. This special proved so popular that it spawned a companion series, now in its fifth season. As one of the featured talking heads on the documentary series, Coppens used his television platform to transform himself from an obscure writer to one of the top tier “ancient astronaut theorists,” as the program described him. On Ancient Aliens, Coppens discussed topics ranging from pyramid secrets to time travel to the extraterrestrial origins of religion, often abandoning the carefully qualified language of his books for outright endorsements of alien contact.
In his final years, Coppens used his television celebrity to promote a series of books designed to tie in to Ancient Aliens, including The Ancient Alien Question (2011), as well as tie-in DVDs keyed to his books and television appearances. To the very end, Coppens’ English-language written work never lost the unusual grammar and European sentence structure attributable to his Belgian upbringing—a somewhat anomalous situation for someone with so many English language publications to his credit.
Coppens portrayed himself as a deep thinker and a tireless investigator of world mysteries. His written work, however, tended to avoid original analysis in favor of journalistic reportage of other alternative writers’ various hypotheses and extensive summaries of their evidence. His articles, too, tended toward reporting what others had investigated. In some cases, this resulted in preventable errors; in other cases, Coppens’ reliance on secondhand sources led to serious misinterpretations of evidence that undermined his more expansive claims about ancient history.
In the last few years Coppens came to the conclusion that ancient aliens were actually spiritual visitors from another dimension, essentially gods. He also concluded that multiple lost civilizations had high technology ten or twenty thousand years ago. Coppens could point to no physical evidence to support either proposition, instead relying on secondhand interpretations of ancient texts and myths, some of which he manifestly misunderstood.
(Readers of this blog will remember that Coppens severely criticized me for pointing out his misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian texts.)
Coppens also frequently accused academics, scholars, and skeptics of participating in a conspiracy to suppress historical truth. “It is far more effective,” he wrote, “to introduce lies into the historical records – lies which will forever be quoted as proof, for they are, after all, part of the historical records, not? (sic)” This was, he said, “a methodology that continues to be practiced to this very day” as part of a “vociferous and vile campaign” by scholars and skeptics.
In the end, Philip Coppens was a minor light in the alternative history firmament, a status reflected in his choice of book topics, which frequently tried to tie-in to other, more popular books. Robert Temple took the night’s brightest star, Sirius, for his masterwork, The Sirius Mystery, and Coppens settled for Canopus, the second brightest star, as the subject of his Canopus Revelation. Although his work will not long outlive him because it lacked the combination of arrogance and audacity that defines the most memorable ancient astronaut books, Coppens was the rare alternative author who seemed to genuinely have a real interest in the mysteries he wrote about and a desire to tie them to actual texts and artifacts, no matter how badly he misunderstood them or how far short of solid proof his investigations fell. For that he will be missed.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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