Gordon Goner on his dramatic health battles and Bored Apes turning 3


Bored Ape co-founder Wylie Aronow — also known as Gordon Goner online — struggled through a decade afflicted by an autoimmune disease before recovering to launch the world’s hottest NFT project three years ago this week.

After hitting stratospheric heights of money and success, with BAYC being feted by major celebrities like Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg, Aronow came crashing back to earth after being diagnosed with a heart failure condition in January 2023.

Being in your mid-30s and being told you have a condition that 50% of people pass away from within five years is hard to comprehend. Aronow has drawn upon his spirituality to help with the gravity of the situation he faces.

“It’s a very personal thing, if I’m being honest, but I was a practicing Hindu for many years. I grew up next to an ISKCON temple, which is like Krishna consciousness,” he says.

“I’d had this deep spiritual side to me that I don’t talk about very often, and then later, I became a Buddhist.”

“When you’re told you might die soon, you’re just thinking about death a lot. The hard part is confronting that moment, it’s only going to happen once. Like you are going to die, and most people, until you’re told you’re going to die, don’t have to think about it.”

“Confronting death is on my mind a lot. I can’t say I’m in a great place with it, but I’m better than I was when I first got told the news. It’s a very deep, personal, weird spiritual journey that I think is just going to be different for everybody.”

But in a positive development, he reveals that the condition has responded well to an experimental new stem cell treatment, even if healing “hasn’t been a straight line.”

Aronow says that having to face his mortality was probably behind his November 2023 NFT shopping spree that lit up social media. He purchased a Zombie CryptoPunk for 600 ETH and NFTs from collections such as Cool Cats, Mocaverse, World of Women, Doodles, Meebits, Chromie Squiggles and more.

Bored Ape Beginnings

Bored Ape Yacht Club this week notches up the third anniversary of starting its mint on April 23, 2021.

The NFT Ape pics entered the global zeitgeist at a pace never seen before. Even today, if you ask a regular person on the street what an NFT is, chances are high they’ll respond with a “Bored Ape.”

From Steph Curry to Eminem, Jimmy Fallon to Elon Musk, Bored Apes were celebrated by some of the world’s biggest influential personalities. But it was always developed as a counter cultural and irreverent brand targeted at a small niche community of crypto natives. 

Had you minted a floor Ape at 0.08 ETH (around $220) and collected all the airdrops and benefits that came your way, you would have seen the investment skyrocket to around $1 million if you had sold even remotely close to the top when the floor price peaked at 150 ETH in April 2022. 

Bored Ape Yacht Club Origin Story

Aronow’s health battle forced him to step back from Yuga Labs, the company behind BAYC. Prior to Bored Apes, he’d spent a decade fighting an autoimmune disease. 

“I was really ill for 10 years and had been bed-bound for a lot of it. I had to drop out of college my senior year just to be a sick guy. I was traveling around the country, going to different doctors, trying to fix my autoimmune disease, which at the time was really extreme. I was having a lot of intestinal blockages, which were extraordinarily painful, and I had really severe colitis, on top of a couple other conditions, so my life was over for like 10 years,” says Aronow. 

“I didn’t do anything but read books, watch movies, play video games, and meditate. It was just nothing, just pure nothingness. But then I kind of miraculously had gotten better, which put me in a position for Bored Apes to be born.” 

Despite Aronow’s health situation not being widely known for much of BAYC’s existence, it was central to its origin story as childhood friend Greg Solano — aka Garga — reached out about an idea. 

“I found the right combination of medicines and lifestyle modifications that got me better. Then, literally, a month later, I’m trying to figure out how to pay off my extraordinary medical debt and my incredible student loan. I’m $80,000 in the hole, and I haven’t had a job since I was 16 years old, working at a retail store. Greg texts me, and he goes, ‘Let’s make an NFT,’” says Aronow. 

“I don’t know if I’ve ever shared what I said in response to that, but my response to his text was, ‘What the fuck is an NFT?’ That was the real response. Then I remembered pretty much instantly what an NFT was because I remembered CryptoPunks.”

Aronow and Solano observed the minting and early formation of Hashmasks but didn’t love the community aspect, as the Discord group was full of holders dunking on and trying to outtrade one another. 

BAYC #1 - owned by Gordon Gonor and his PFP
BAYC #1 — owned by Gordon Gonor, who displays it as his PFP.

“There was very little communal feeling to it, and we just set out to come up with the idea that would eventually be Bored Ape Yacht Club.” 

“The first idea was actually Crypto Girlfriends when the four of us were brainstorming, and we posed the question, ‘What do all these crypto bros need and my answer was girlfriends.’ My own girlfriend, who I’m still with today, wasn’t a fan [laughs], and it did feel off to us — it didn’t feel like it had a lot of staying power.” 

Aronow recalls getting Ozone IV treatments for his health condition, colitis, in Knoxville, Tennessee and having a huge wave of creativity and consciousness that would eventually give birth to the name and concept of the “Bored Ape Yacht Club.” 

“I was feeling really terrible at night, and I couldn’t sleep because of the treatments. I was up for 24 hours, and I sent Greg this fucking essay about all the things that I thought were cool. It centered around two things, one of which is this place that we’ve gone to growing up called Church Hill’s Pub in Miami, which is a very infamous punk club going back 30 years in Miami and then the CBGB’s bathroom.” 

The Swamp with Curtis
The Swamp with Curtis from LowFi Hip-Hop Mix

“The first idea for utility centered around the idea of that bathroom. It was like, ‘What if you could drop a pixel? What if buying this NFT gave you access to this club where you could drop a pixel and contribute to a collective art experience?’ and we’re kind of off to the races after that.” 

“I’d given Greg a ton of different names for what we could call it, including Bored Ape Yacht Club, and he woke up in the morning to this giant stream of consciousness, and anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that that’s how I work. But when Greg read ‘Bored Ape Yacht Club,’ he said that’s the thing. I knew it right away, and it just felt kismet.” 

The early magic and experimentation of Bored Apes

To say Bored Ape Yacht Club bottled magic would be an understatement, particularly in its first year when the brand could do almost no wrong. Even those sidelined with no exposure to the BAYC ecosystem watched the emergence of a cultural phenomenon in awe. 

It’s hard to capture all the moments in the mania that was BAYC’s first year or so, but here’s a walk down memory lane and a reminder of how instrumental the project was as infinite copycat projects tried to roll out their own version: 

BAYC minting out / Roadmap 2.0 / Treasure Hunt / J1mmy.eth and Pranksy mint a huge amount of Apes / Elon’s “seems kinda fungible” tweet after momentarily changing his PFP to a collage of Bored Apes.

Bored Ape Kennel Club surprise drop / Meebits v Apes with Beeple’s art /Apes flipping Punks / the “Fuck It. Mutants Saturday” iconic tweet / Yacht Club / IP rights gifted to holders in the wild, including Bored & Hungry, Tyrese Haliburton shoes in NBA and Snoop Dogg with Dr. Bombay Ice Cream.

Ape Fest / Celebs jumping on board, including Paris Hilton, Jimmy Fallon, Steph Curry, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Timbaland, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Josh Hart, LaMelo Ball / the BAYC mural during the Australian Open tennis / Otherside trailer / and plenty more, too.

How Bored Apes avoided Von Dutching themselves

BAYC was hardly short of “oh shit” moments in its first 12 months of existence, but Aronow recalls Paris Hilton on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon showing off her Ape as one of the biggest moments in terms of how much BAYC had captured mainstream culture. 

“Pretty much every celebrity interaction with BAYC I did not know was going to happen beforehand. Someone DM’d me and said Paris Hilton is on the Tonight Show talking about her Bored Ape, and they’re showing it,” says Aronow. 

“She had the one with an S&M hat, and I’m sitting back, thinking, ‘I know where I took inspiration for that variable. That’s from underground sex clubs in New York City,’” he explains. “That’s where I was inspired by that variable. Is she aware of that?”

“I know she’s a smart person, so I’m sure she is, but I remember thinking, ‘That’s a little risque.’”

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But while, on one hand, he couldn’t believe how successful it was becoming, he was worried about Bored Apes getting co-opted by the mainstream.

“I called up Greg right after that happened, in my exact words, and I’ll never forget; we’re like, ‘How do we not Von Dutch ourselves?’ I began to become concerned that this was jumping the shark.” 

“I said this project was meant for a niche crypto community. Now it’s as mainstream as you can get. Paris Hilton on the fucking Tonight Show — Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris Hilton… I have a lot of respect for her.” 

They talked it out and ultimately agreed the only solution was to stay authentic no matter what. “If we can just try and be a little subversive or a little bit irreverent and stay crypto native,” he says.

“But that ultimately became very hard as the company grew and as our ambition scaled to match. It became very hard to stay crypto-native. I think we’re back on track now, but it took a while to get us there.”

Paris Hilton on The Tonight Show
Paris Hilton on “The Tonight Show”

Aronow’s creativity like a Hot Wheels track 

The magic of BAYC was in giving the impression they were just making things up on the fly, but behind the scenes, much of it was very deliberate. The catch cry “Fuck Doing Expected Things” was one of Aronow’s memorable tweets that doubled as a mission statement.

Aronow’s creativity in drumming up anticipation in an industry where anticipation is often referred to as the oxygen of the space can’t be understated. Behind the social media shitposting and regular banter with Solano is a very deep curiosity about the creative process and writing. 

Having studied creative writing, Aronow was inspired by short story writers, which filtered through to the lore of BAYC, Bored Ape Kennel Club, Mutant Ape Yacht Club and Otherdeeds for Otherside. 

“I love creative process stuff; it was really interesting to me. I like talking to other creatives, writers and artists about their process. That’s the shit that I’m really into,” Aronow says, singling out George Saunders as “probably the greatest living short story writer” and a source of personal inspiration.

“George had written this essay about a Donald Barthelme story called The School, and his essay was called The Perfect Gerbil. It blew my mind when I read it over a decade ago because it explained how narrative works in a way that I couldn’t quite digest yet from Aristotle’s poetics or the like. My stupid brain finally understood it when he explained it as a Hot Wheels track.” 

“George basically said it had these little gas stations that sped up the car around the track, and it was your goal as a writer to place these Hot Wheels tracks at just the right moments to get the reader through the story. For example, let’s use a novel; you could have the greatest moment ever on page 276, but if your reader stops reading at 275, what was the point of it, right? That’s what matters, and timing was everything.” 

Aronow believes that narrative drives community, and apart from Bitcoin and Ethereum, “most crypto kind of exists because of X and Twitter. I know that’s going to be a very unpopular thing to say, but they have a very codependent relationship.” 

“What works on social media is narrative. When people talk about community being the most important thing, I think that’s a bit of a meme. I’m not saying that community is not important. Community is extraordinarily important, but what comes before community? Community follows narrative. Narrative comes first. It’s almost like one begets the other. If you have a strong narrative about something, community will form around it.” 

Bored Apes controversy and its toll on his health

They often say fame comes at a heavy cost, and for Aronow, the cost has been higher than most, revealing his nervous system feels shot to bits dealing with the autoimmune disease and heart failure while battling internet trolls amid the infamous Buzzfeed doxing.

When Aronow was diagnosed with heart failure, he posted “Setting the Record Straight” on Substack to address the bizarre “Nazi conspiracy” smear campaign that shook him and his co-founders. 

“I started to get sick, and I hid it for a while. I just really started to burn out. All the trolls and all the nastiness. The doxing, and the way all that shit went down; it was brutal, and there was so much happening on that front behind the scenes,” Aronow says. 

“So many people are not aware. Two trolls, which I won’t name just because they would love it if I did, really tried to make our lives a personal living hell in the most egregious of ways. There’ll probably be multiple documentaries coming out in the future about just how nasty those guys were.” 

“By the time I was diagnosed with heart failure when I was told I had a 50% chance of dying within five years, I just closed my fucking laptop.”

“I fulfilled every promise that I’ve ever made — I just deserve my own peace now. I worked nonstop up until that point, and I mean, nonstop. I didn’t take a day off, neither did Greg by the way. Greg took six hours off during that second year to get married. I’m not fucking kidding.”

Forever the optimist, Aronow shares that a recent treatment has had a positive effect on countering his heart failure condition.

“I did an experimental stem cell thing for my heart, which did really help it. It slowed the progression of the disease pretty dramatically, but it made it so that the medications that allowed me to create Yuga in the first place for my colitis stopped working entirely.” 

“I’m now back to this place where I was. I’m back to dealing with the disease that I was sick with for 10 years on top of now having heart failure, which, again, has been fairly stable. But as a result of the stem cells, now I’m struggling in this way, which is pretty difficult.”

“It’s hard to appreciate everything we were able to build and everything it did for the ecosystem — all the new people it brought in when your nervous system is so thrashed. I still, to this day, feel thrashed from it all.” 

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The future of Bored Ape Yacht Club

Not one to wallow in his own adversity, Aronow, who’s ridden the rollercoaster of a lifetime with his treasured Bored Ape Yacht Club, remains optimistic that the collection will see its time in the sun again. 

“I think Apes will always have some kind of cultural relevance due to the splash that they made in its first year. I think those moments are going to come back again and again and again. It’s going to follow the same attention economy that all of crypto has,” says Aronow.

“I think one of the reasons for that is that we have an extraordinary BAYC team being headed up by Jeff Nicholas, Figgie and Greg now. There’s going to be just a ton of extraordinary moments out in the next year, and I think a lot of them can bring a lot of attention back to the space as a whole, but in particular, Bored Apes. I think Bored Apes are going to be around pretty much forever.”

Aronow also has his sights set on returning to the space once his health improves. 

“Eventually, I will get better. I feel that in my heart, that even if I can’t fully correct the colitis or the heart failure, that I will get back to a place where I’m building, and I think it’ll probably be what everyone is expecting on some level. I’ll probably create some kind of corner for myself. I’ve tentatively wanted to call it the basement, and it’s like my little corner where I get to do whatever the fuck I want and everyone leaves me alone.” 

“I want to capture the meta-narratives; I want to capture that stuff that only a really small, nimble and extraordinarily degenerate team can accomplish. That’s because that’s the kind of shit that gets me going; that’s the kind of shit that I get out of bed, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s fucking do it.’” 

Rapid fire Q&A with Gordon Goner

Favorite NFT in your wallet? 

“Bored Ape number one. I know it’s a boring answer, but it’s that one, absolutely.”

Favorite 1-of-1 art piece? 

“I haven’t collected a lot of 1-of-1s. I absolutely will over the next year, and I have a few in mind that I’m just waiting for the right price moment or negotiation to come through.”

Who are your top 3 favorite follows on Twitter for NFTs?

1. NFT Nick — “I love Nick. I would put him in my top three.”

2. CL207 — “Someone who’s not as involved in the NFT space who doesn’t know who I am and probably doesn’t give a shit about me one way or the other. But I have always secretly loved him as a crypto guy. Probably been my all-time favorite Crypto Twitter personality.”

3. Lior — “I have a lot of respect for him, not just as a founder, but also as a community member, and I like his thoughts on things. He’s such a fucking incredible guy.”

Advice on how to survive NFTs and crypto in the long run?

“I think it’s important to not follow every meta-narrative, right? I think it’s important to think long-term. To have the discernment on what metas to follow and what not to follow, and that only comes — unfortunately — from just being around long enough. You have to get burned enough times.”

“The other thing I will say is that pride comes before the fall in crypto. Don’t let hubris get the best of you because crypto has a way of humbling you every fucking time.” 

“I can’t think of a single person. I honestly can’t think of a single person since 2017 who has not burned themselves from not showing humility and or letting greed take over.”

Would you do anything different in the last three years of this wild ride? 

“I’d do a million things differently, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It’s not like I’m filled with regret or anything, but there are a tremendous amount of moments that I would redo if I could almost on a day-to-day level, but I really did the best I could.” 

“I’m not just thinking about myself but thinking from the perspective of the holders. That became harder as I became sicker and had to sort of step away from the company and entrust others along the way, but everyone we’ve entrusted has only gotten better and better.” 

“I feel good about where we’re heading now. I feel so filled with optimism and hope for the entire NFT ecosystem. I’m feeling pretty fucking great about where everything is heading.” 

“On a personal level, all of this was the first time for us. You learn through doing.” 

What message do you want to get out to the Bored Ape community? 

“Apes together strong — I love you.”

Wylie Aronow straight after this interview
Wylie Aronow, straight after this interview.
Greg Oakford

Greg Oakford

Greg Oakford is the Head of Growth & Partnerships for Upside DAO, a leading Australian crypto & web3 co-working hub and investment fund. He is an avid NFT collector and the co-founder of NFT Fest Australia. Prior to crypto, Greg was a marketing and sponsorship specialist in the sports industry working on professional events.

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