Lori and George Schappell obituary: Conjoined twins who defied the limits the world put on them

The second-oldest conjoined twins ever wanted everybody to ‘get past this already, everybody ... and learn to know the individual person’

Born September 18th, 1961

Died April 7th, 2024

Lori and George Schappell, conjoined twins whose skulls were partly fused but who managed to lead independent lives, have died aged 62.

The Schappells lived much longer than had been expected when they were born as craniopagus twins, joined at the head, which is rare. They were cited as the second-oldest conjoined twins ever by Guinness World Records.

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They were connected at the sides of their foreheads and looked in opposite directions. Lori was able-bodied and pushed George, who had spina bifida, on a stool that had wheels. George was assigned female at birth and took on a new name in the 1990s, Reba, for the country singer Reba McEntire, but later came out as a trans man.

They insisted, adamantly, that they were distinct people. “We’re two human beings who were brought into the world connected at one area of the body,” Lori said in a short ITV documentary in 1997. “This is a condition that happened through birth, and people have to learn to understand that. When they see this” – she gestured to their conjoined heads – “all they see is this.”

She added: “There is much more to Reba and I than this. Get past this already, everybody, get past it and learn to know the individual person.”

Lori worked at a hospital laundry in the 1990s and enjoyed bowling.

George, as Reba, performed country music in the United States and abroad; won a Los Angeles Music Award for best new country artist in 1997; and sang The Fear of Being Alone over the closing credits of Stuck on You (2003), a comedy directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly that starred Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined twins.

The twins gave each other space for their pursuits. Reba told BBC Radio in 2006, “When I am singing, Lori is like another fan, except she’s up onstage with me (covered by a blanket to reduce the distraction).”

At an early age, the twins were placed in an institution for the intellectually disabled, according to a 2005 article in New York magazine. They were not intellectually disabled and so “helped the caregivers there make beds and feed other children”

The Schappell twins were born in West Reading, Pennsylvania, two of eight children of Franklin and Ruth Schappell. Their doctor gave them a year to live.

“Then he put it up to we won’t live past 2 or we won’t live past 3,” Lori told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “Each year he was wrong. We were saying the other day, if he could see us now, we’re 41 and we’re still here.”

At an early age, the twins were placed in an institution for the intellectually disabled in Reading, according to a 2005 article in New York magazine.

They were not intellectually disabled and so “helped the caregivers there make beds and feed other children”, said Ellen Weissbrod, who directed Face to Face: The Schappell Twins, a 2000 documentary.

The Schappells were institutionalised for more than 20 years until they met Ginny Thornburgh, wife of Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh, in the 1980s. Ginny Thornburgh was an activist for the disabled, and her husband closed down some state institutions for developmentally disabled people.

The Schappell twins are survived by their father; their sisters, Denise Schappell, Brenda Zellers and Patti Cahill; and their brothers, Rodney, Dennis and Gregory. Their mother died in 2019.

The twins said that they never wanted to be surgically separated and that they did not wish they had been born apart. Doctors said that when one of the Schappells died, the other would have almost certainly followed quickly.

“Our parents instilled in us from the day we were old enough to know better and to understand what they were saying,” Lori told ITV, “that God did this for a purpose.” – The New York Times

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