A man dubbed a “real-life Tarzan” after surviving 40 years in the Vietnamese jungle has died of liver cancer at 52.
Ho Van Lang died Monday, about eight years after he and his father Ho Van Thanh returned to civilization. The pair fled into the woods of the Tra Bong district in 1972, amid bombings launched by US troops during the Vietnam War, which killed half of their family.
For decades they had no idea the war had ended.
The men were forced to enter a nearby town in 2013 when Lang entered a village in search of medical care for his then-ailing father, who died of unreported causes in 2017. Lang’s older brother Ho Van Tri was his only connection to civilization up to that point.
Lang’s friend Alvaro Cerezo said in a statement to Mercury Press that all the trappings of a “modern life” had likely done him in, such as chemical-laden processed foods.
“I’m so sad to see him go, but for me, his passing is also a liberation because I know he was suffering in the last months,” he said.
Cerezo paid tribute to his late friend. “He was a beautiful human being, to forget him will be impossible, I will miss him every day.”
Their family led a conventional life in Tra Kem prior to their escape. Eventually, they learned to forage and hunt, grow crops and build shelter in nature, and stripped down to the bare essentials, wearing merely a loincloth to cover their bodies.
For 41 years, they lived as “jungle men” until a group trekking through the wilderness spotted Lang and Thanh, apparently in distress. A team of rescuers were alerted and tracked them down in August 2013.
The father had maintained some of his language skills, while Lang could speak only a few words of the regional Cor language.
Lang’s brief return to his childhood home in the Tra Bong jungle made headlines in 2016. Cerezo, an explorer and entrepreneur, camped there with Lang for five days at the time with the hope of learning from the expert survivalist. The two stayed in touch after that time together, as Cerezo documented many of Lang’s ups and downs during his re-acclimation with society.
Said Cerezo, “I didn’t like seeing him living in civilization. I was always concerned that he and his body wouldn’t be able to handle such a drastic change.”
“He had spent all his life living in the jungle and then came to live in the ‘civilized world’ where he started eating processed foods and sometimes even drinking alcohol,” he explained.
Cerezo published a book about his friend in 2017.
“‘The connection between us was immediate because Lang never imagined someone would be interested in his survival skills, and he was so happy to show me them all,” he said. “He got so excited that he decided to take me deep into the jungle and show me the place he had lived all his life.”
He said of Lang’s “endearing” qualities, “He was a little kid with the skills of a superhuman.”