Write for The Iranian
Editorial policy

January 18, 2003

Cheshm-e maa roshan

Florida man claims DNA evidence proves he's son of Shah of Iran

January 12, 2003
The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Florida. - (KRT) - Gary Zarcone, like many adopted children, always wondered who his biological parents were. Now the Orlando furniture salesman says he is convinced he is the son of the former Shah of Iran and says he has a DNA test to back him up.

He is so sure of his identity that he has changed his last name to that of the man he now calls his father - Pahlavi.

In circuit court last September, Gary Zarcone became Cyrus Nowia-Pahlavi. The new name comes from Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire; Nowia, for the name he had at the Tehran orphanage where he was adopted, and Pahlavi from the last name of the former Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

"I know that I am his son," said Cyrus Pahlavi, who thinks he is a product of the shah's "indiscretion." Pahlavi is still searching for clues to his mother's identity and is uncertain of his age because of contradictory birth dates.

For five years he has spent countless hours, hired a private detective and tracked down dozens of leads that have taken him from Florida to California in attempts to prove his claim. His reward is a DNA test with the shah's nephew in California that indicates Cyrus Pahlavi could be related to the family.

Other than those results and other circumstantial evidence, however, he lacks hard proof.

He says he is not doing all this to stake a claim to any money, but to answer a question most people take for granted: Who am I?

The silent witness who might have answered that question was at one time one of the most powerful men in the world.

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was born in 1919 and was groomed to follow his father as leader of Iran. In 1941, he ascended the Peacock Throne and initiated ambitious political, social and economic reforms. Along the way, he married three times and had five children.

Despite his reforms, the poverty-stricken population of then 37 million grew increasingly restless. The Ayatollah Khomeini mobilized a Muslim opposition. In 1979, the shah was forced into exile, and the Ayatollah and his regime of clerics took over the leadership of Iran. The shah died the following year and was buried in Cairo, Egypt.

Cyrus Pahlavi has talked to representatives for shah heir Reza Pahlavi and other members of the royal family only to be shunned at every turn.

Reza Pahlavi, who lives in a Washington, D.C., suburb, said through a spokesman that he finds Cyrus Pahlavi's claims "baseless" and "irrelevant."

"We've had more than 20 people claim to be related," said Reza Pahlavi's aide Kamran Beigi.

A frustrated Cyrus Pahlavi said he is undeterred and plans this summer to go to Egypt to exhume the shah's body for further DNA testing.

"You have one of the richest families in the world," he said, "but the one thing they can't seem to afford is to acknowledge me."

Pahlavi's adopted father, Air Force veteran Bart Zarcone of Orlando, who adopted his son in 1971 while serving in Tehran, Iran, said that although the two are estranged, he supports his son's search.

"There's a possibility they could be related," Zarcone said of his son and the former shah. "If that makes him happy, that's great."

Zarcone, who for 20 years performed as Melvin the Clown for the Armed Forces television, and his ex-wife Gail, who has remarried and lives in Michigan, said they were told by Tehran orphanage officials that their son had been left in a cardboard box at the orphanage's doorstep.

The Zarcones were not told any other details about the little boy they adopted when they thought they could not have another child. At the time, they had one son, Troy, who was almost 6 years old. After they decided to adopt the little boy they named Gary, the Zarcones found out they were expecting another child. That daughter, Lora Clark, also lives in Orlando.

Bart Zarcone, 63, said orphanage officials told the Zarcones they could invent whatever birth date they wished for Gary because officials did not know when he was born. To honor Gail's brother who died while serving in the Vietnam War, they named their adopted son Gary and gave him his uncle's birth date of March 27.

The Zarcones returned to the United States, and following Bart's retirement in 1978, they moved to Port St. Lucie, where Gary Zarcone attended public school, played soccer and made above-average grades.

Pahlavi said he always felt he didn't fit in. His dark features were constant reminders that he did not look like his fairer siblings or classmates. What's more, the year that the Zarcones moved to Florida was the same year Americans were taken hostage in Iran.

"He was such a great little kid and had a certain light in his eyes," Bart Zarcone said. "But when the hostages were taken, it was known Gary was of Iranian descent." People threw eggs and rocks at the Zarcone house, wrote graffiti and knocked over the mailbox to taunt them because of Gary's heritage, Zarcone said.

After graduating from high school in 1986, Pahlavi said, he went to community college for one semester and then dropped out. He worked as a salesman, first in electronics and later in furniture. Since July 2002, he has worked at Haverty's furniture on East Colonial Drive, where he is assistant sales manager and was top salesman in December.

He moved to Orlando to be close to his dad, but relationships with his family members began to unravel. Pahlavi's parents divorced in 1989, and his mother moved to Michigan and remarried. Pahlavi's adopted dad and sister remain in Orlando but rarely speak to him.

Troy Zarcone, 37, a psychologist at Kansas University, said he hasn't talked to his adopted brother for several years and said he found Pahlavi's behavior "erratic." But sister Lora Clark, 30, said she admired her brother "Gary" for persisting in searching for his identity.

"I think it has taken a lot of guts to keep going because he could have been discouraged by people who didn't believe him," she said.

The search for his heritage began in 1998.

David Holzapfel, an Orlando hospitality consultant and former restaurant owner, saw a TV biography of the former shah and was struck by how much he looked like Holzapfel's friend Gary Zarcone.

"It was like, click!" Holzapfel, 38, recalled. "I thought, my God, it looks just like him."

Pahlavi said he at first thought it was a ridiculous idea. But after looking at a photo, he couldn't deny the resemblance. Similar physical characteristics include the two men's ears - one is curved and the other pointed - mouth, teeth and hair pattern. Both have slight builds.

Pahlavi says he became obsessed. He spent months reading every book and magazine he could find on the former shah at the public library. Months stretched into years, as he surfed the Internet, wrote would-be relatives searching for clues to his identity.

Pahlavi had his birth records and other Iranian paperwork translated, which raised more questions. Birth and medical records show his birth date as Sept. 29, 1961; March 27, 1966, and Sept. 29, 1966.

"I stopped celebrating my birthday a couple of years ago because I wasn't sure when I was born," Pahlavi said.

Although some members of the royal family shunned him, Cyrus Pahlavi continued his search and found a warmer reception from a man he now considers a first cousin.

Jaffar Pahlavi of La Jolla, Calif., is the son of Hamid Pahlavi, the half brother of the former shah. The two men had the same father, which would give Jaffar and Cyrus_if he is related_the same paternal grandfather, Reza Khan Pahlavi.

Jaffar Pahlavi, 32, said he was skeptical at first but was sympathetic to someone wanting to find their roots. Pahlavi, a tennis instructor, said he agreed to be helpful. He also said Cyrus Pahlavi offered him money, something Cyrus Pahlavi denies.

"I only agreed to pay for the DNA testing," Cyrus Pahlavi said.

The two men say they hit it off during a June 2000 meeting. The next month, they went for DNA tests at Forensic Science Consulting Group of San Diego.

Mary Pierson, the senior scientist, concluded that the DNA profile favored the two men being kin by almost 8 to 1. Pierson, who has 21 years forensic experience, said if she were testing a father and son, she could say with almost 100 percent accuracy whether they were related. But she said it becomes more difficult to show relationships between siblings and even more so with cousins.

"Once you start doing cousins, all we can give is probability because there are so many variables," she said.

Still, Pierson said for two men who were otherwise strangers to show the results she found, "It looks like they could be related."

Jaffar Pahlavi now said he regrets having helped and fears his cooperation will anger other family members.

"They will never accept him," Jaffar Pahlavi said.

A determined Cyrus Pahlavi said his last shot at recognition may be to have an irrefutable DNA match with the former shah.

Just how Cyrus Pahlavi would be able to exhume the former shah's body is unclear. But he said he is making plans to go to Egypt this summer to try, regardless of how remote a chance he likely has.

Pahlavi said he realizes many will see him as crazy or an opportunist. But he said he has two goals: one is acceptance, and the other is to use what he sees as his newfound power to work with people from other countries to "abolish poverty and save the earth for the next generation.'

"What I want is what was taken away from me," he said. "I want my family, and I want to be legitimized. I won't stop until I am."

Sent by Peyman Iran

Funny stuff, interesting stuff, important stuff, stupid stuff, all sorts of stuff... Have you got something for this page? Email it

Comment for The Iranian letters section


* Latest

* Archive


* Satire

Copyright © All Rights Reserved. Legal Terms for more information contact:
Web design by Bcubed
Internet server Global Publishing Group