Cleo Odzer (Sheila Lynne Odzer, 6 April 1950 – 26 March 2001) was an American writer, author of books on prostitution in Thailand, the hippie culture of Goa, and cybersex.
She grew up in a wealthy Jewish family in Manhattan, New York City and attended Franklin School (now Dwight School) and Quintano’s School for Young Professionals, graduating from the latter in 1968. At about that time, she began writing about the music scene for a small Greenwich Village newspaper. She met Keith Emerson, then member of the rock band The Nice and later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, at The Scene nightclub and they were briefly engaged. According to Odzer, Emerson broke off the engagement when he saw a February 1969 Time Magazine article that published her photo and described her as a "Super Groupie." Shortly thereafter in 1969 she recorded an album called The Groupies, produced by Alan Lorber, which essentially consisted of interviews with Cleo and some friends describing their adventures meeting (and sleeping with) rock musicians.
Hippie years in Goa
In the early 1970s, Odzer traveled in Europe and the Middle East and worked as a model. She spent the late 1970s in the hippie culture of Anjuna, Goa in India. Her experiences there, including heavy use of cocaine and heroin, the international drug smuggling used to finance the stay, and her subsequent two-week incarceration, would later form the basis of her second book, Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India (1995). For a time she followed the teachings of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in India.
Return to U.S.; research in Thailand
After her return to the United States in the late 1970s, Odzer underwent drug treatment at Daytop in New York. She entered college, then graduate school, and in 1990 obtained a Ph.D. in anthropology from The New School for Social Research in New York City with a thesis on prostitution in Thailand. Beginning in 1987, she had spent three years in Thailand to research this topic. In her dissertation, she describes case studies of 17 people connected to the sex industry in Patpong. She concludes that the economic opportunities provided by sex work do not translate into a higher status of women, because of persistent stigma and ideas about gender inequality in Thai society. Her experiences in Thailand were described in her first book, Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World . In this work she describes the Thai prostitutes she got to know as quick-witted entrepreneurs rather than exploited victims, sometimes revered in their poor home villages. She also relates her own problematic affair with a Thai pimp boyfriend.
Following publication of the book, Odzer worked at Daytop in New York, the drug rehabilitation organization she herself had attended earlier.
From 1995 to 1998, Odzer produced several dozen episodes of her show Cleo's Adventures for Manhattan Neighborhood Network Public-access television. Her third book, Virtual Spaces: sex and the cyber citizen (1997), deals with cybersex. She appeared in episode 1.21 of SexTV in 1999, with a segment on cybersex.
Return to Goa and death.
Disappointed with life in New York, in 1999 Odzer returned to Goa, where some of the remaining old-time hippies disliked her because of the publicity her book had brought to the scene.She died there in 2001. A good friend of hers who had been corresponding with Odzer during her final stay in India, "Cookie" (with whom she recorded The Groupies), reports that Odzer's doctor (who had been away when she died) said she probably died of a stroke related to very high cholesterol and serious circulatory problems that she was being treated for during her final year, and that her body had been cremated after a small service. But a researcher, Arun Saldanha, who interviewed members of the Goa community about Odzer, reports being told by a psychiatrist at the Goa Medical College some ten months after her death that her body had lain unclaimed in a morgue in Mapusa for more than a month until finally she had been buried in Mapusa without a funeral, and that she had had AIDS.
The 2002 documentary Last Hippie Standing by Marcus Robbin covered the Goa scene and featured some of Cleo Odzer's old super-8 footage from the 1970s. She was interviewed by Robbins for the film in Goa shortly before her death, and said:
“I don't know what the future brings, but I know what I don't want: New York is what I don't want, that culture is what I don't want; it's not right. I don't know what is right. I don't think our old life was right. I don't see a new culture that is right, but we have to continue trying, that's the best we can do, that's the best any of us can do, to keep trying. To make something that is peaceful for everybody, that makes people happy, that is fair to everybody. And that's all I want.”
The film was dedicated to her memory.
GOA FREAKS- MY HIPPY LIFE IN INDIA (1976):
In this lively and unique document of 1970s-style hedonism, we follow the futher adventures of Cleo Odzer, whose first book Patpong Sisters was a best seller. Goa Freaks begins in the mid 1970s and tells of Cleo's love affair with Goa, a resort in India where the Freaks (hippies) of the world converge to partake in a heady bohemian lifestyle. To finance their astounding appetites for cocaine, heroin, and hashish, the Freaks spend each monsoon season acting as drug couriers, and soon Cleo is running her own "scams" in Canada, Australis, and the United States. (She even gets her Aunt Sadie in on the action.) Wish her earnings she builds a veritable palace on the beach- the only Goa house with running water and a flushing toilet. Cleo becomes the hostess of Anjuna Beach, holding days-long poker games and movie nights and, as her money begins to run out, transforming the house into a for-profit drug den. Tracing Cleo's love affairs, her stint hiding out at the ashram of the infamous Bhagwan Rajneesh, and her sometimes-harrowing drug experiences, Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India is candid and compelling, bringing to life the spirit of a now-lost era.