Richard Alan Heene Jr. has lived in different parts of the United States including Virginia, California, Colorado, Florida and New York. He is the husband of Mayumi Iizuka Heene.
With just a high school diploma, Richard has a long list of jobs he has tried. He used to be a licensed carpentry contractor in Colorado and California, a salesman, a stand-up comedian and an author, he once designed a board game that was unsuccessful, he once cleaned a backyard piled with dog poop for $300 and he has experienced changing light bulbs for a living.
Richard was already married to Mayumi when he made money offering remodeling and home renovation services. At the time, she was running an at-home video-editing business.
Moreover, Richard is a scientist, an inventor and a storm chaser. One common denominator he and Mayumi had was that they were both as aspiring actors.
In August 1997, Richard was pursuing a career as a comedian while Mayumi was playing guitar in a rock band. They met at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, an acting school in Hollywood, California, USA.
While Richard and Mayumi did not successfully pursue a career in acting, the acting school became the starting point of their long-lasting relationship. After getting married, they lived in Fort Collins, Colorado with their three sons namely Bradford Heene, Ryo Heene and Falcon Heene, who is known as the Balloon Boy.
In the morning of October 15, 2009, Richard and Mayumi reported to authorities that Falcon was trapped inside a homemade helium-filled gas balloon shaped to resemble a silver flying saucer. They had released the balloon into the atmosphere from their backyard in Fort Collins.
While two Colorado National Guard helicopters and local police pursued the balloon, which passed through Adams County and Weld County in Colorado, planes were rerouted around its flight path. After an hour, it landed about 12 miles northeast of Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado.
Falcon was not found inside the balloon so search and rescue crews in Colorado searched for him. In the afternoon, he emerged from the attic of their house where he had been hiding the whole time.
In the evening, Falcon appeared with his entire family on the CNN show “Larry King Live,” where they were interviewed by Wolf Blitzer. Blitzer told Richard, “I don’t know if Falcon can hear me.”
“Did he hear anything?” Blitzer asked Richard referring to Falcon. “Did he hear you screaming out ‘Falcon, Falcon?’”
“He’s asking, Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?” Richard asked Falcon. The boy answered, “Mmm-hmm.”
“You did?” Richard asked Falcon. “Well, then why didn’t you come out?”
“Um.” Falcon paused. “You guys said… that, um… We did this for the show.”
“Man,” Richard said. Mayumi added, “No.”
Years after the incident, which the authorities and the public described as a hoax, Bradford, Ryo and Falcon formed a heavy metal band called the Heene Boyz. Here are 13 more things about their father:
- He was born in 1961 in Virginia, where he also grew up. His biological father was mostly absent so he was raised by his abusive mother and stepfather. He has two siblings including a sister named Diana Fields. In 2012, he told the Broward Palm Beach New Times, “We moved a lot. I went to 13 different schools.”
- He started doing contractor work in 1979. In the same year, his interest in meteorology started when he witnessed how a tornado moved a roof while he was working in construction. In 2008, he was the lead author of the National Weather Digest article “Electromagnetic Fields Recorded in Mesocyclones” and he flew into Hurricane Wilma with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.
- In 1985, he owned a own contracting business. In 1995, he published a book of parody titled “Offensive Driving” under the imprint Dick Weenie.
- He married Patricia Heene and they got divorced before meeting Mayumi. On October 12, 1997, he married Mayumi in Nevada, USA. They scheduled a test launch for his balloon on their 12th wedding anniversary.
- He, Mayumi and their three sons appeared in a “Wife Swap” episode aired on ABC on October 3, 2008 along with Karen Martel, her husband Jay Martel and their children Max Martel and Dean Martel. In the episode, he yelled at Karen, “You’re a man’s nightmare! I’m so glad my wife was born in Japan.” He, Mayumi and their three sons were voted by the viewers to appeared again in “Wife Swap” for its 100th episode on March 13, 2009 along with psychic Sheree Silver, her husband Sam Castiglia and their two sons.
- In April 2009, he and Mayumi signed an option with “Wife Swap” producers to pitch a reality show about homemade science experiments including a balloon made in the shape of a flying saucer.
- On October 20, 2009, he and Mayumi took a lie detector test but the results were never published. On November 13, 2009, he pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant. On December 23, 2009, Larimer County District Court Judge Stephen Schapanski in Colorado sentenced him to 90 days in jail and 100 hours of community service and ordered him to write a formal apology to the agencies that searched for Falcon. Mayumi was ordered to serve a Saturday and Sunday work detail for 20 days.
- On January 7, 2010, he appeared again on “Larry King Live” and told Larry King that he only pleaded guilty to prevent his wife from being deported to Japan. On January 11, 2010, he started serving 90 days in prison. After completing the sentence in April 2010, a judge ordered him to pay $36,000 in restitution. In the same month, Mayumi started serving her 20-day weekend jail-supervised community service. He, Mayumi and their three sons left Fort Collins on August 30, 2010 and moved to Spring Hill, Florida on September 2, 2010.
- In July 2011, he auctioned the balloon that made headlines in 2009. A business man from Aurora, Colorado named Mike Fruitman bought it for $2,502.
- On September 20, 2015, he, Mayumi and their three sons were interviewed on the NBC show “Today” by Erica Hill. He told Hill that he pleaded guilty in 2009 because the threat of deportation of Mayumi was imminent. He explained, “When that came on the table, I had to take the deal that they proposed to me so my attorney said ‘Richard, it’s only a 90-day stay’ and that was a long time for me but it really went by quickly.”
- He wrote and directed the musical “American Chilly,” which premiered at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida on October 28, 2015. It starred the Heene Boyz along with Greg Gebauer, Johnny Vegaz, Dean Pskowski, Jennifer Pskowski and Madeline Smyth.
- In May 2019, he moved from Florida to a camper trailer in New Hampton, New York with Mayumi and their three sons. In September 2019, a version of the balloon controversy involving him and his family was released by 5280 Magazine senior writer Robert Sanchez. In October 2019, he told ABC News that he was a victim of character assassination and shared, “I’ve lost a lot of opportunities. I’ve had people contact me about things I invented and the deal went south because they find out who I am. The thing that gets me is the media never tells my side of the story.”
- On December 23, 2020, he and Mayumi were among the 18 people pardoned by 43rd Colorado governor Jared Polis. In a statement, the governor said, “Richard and Mayumi have paid the price in the eyes of the public, served their sentences and it’s time for all of us to move on.”