Kruckenhauser is enormously sturdy—built like a Vienna fireplug. But last June he had four heart attacks within 14 days. "I was buckling on the floor, writhing with pain," he says now. "I had to be alone when these attacks came. Once I was in a car. I drove into a meadow and waited until it was over. It takes about 20 minutes. After all, I am a biologist, too. I stopped smoking right away. I used to smoke 30 cigarettes a day. Once when I had an attack I went up into the attic. But the fourth time, unfortunately, my wife saw it. She called the doctor. He came and I said, 'My dear doctor, I know exactly what you want to say and what I have to do. I have to eat your little pills. I cannot smoke. I stopped already. I have to eat less. I must exercise.' " And, having browbeaten the doctor like everyone else, the old man shrugged. "It is difficult not to smoke and not to eat too much," he said. "And as for exercise—where should I take the time? I ski too well and that is no exercise for me."
He looked around his Austrian mountaintop kingdom. "It is not so important in life," he said, "when one has to die. But it is somehow important that one has had some fun during the time when one has lived and that one has produced something. It is the most beautiful thing in life when hobbies can become jobs, and I was very lucky that way. Everything else is wurst. The Chinese have a proverb," he said, as though Austrian ski instructors frequently quote old Chinese proverbs. " 'A man must have planted a tree, fathered a child and written a book.' Well, in my life I have planted about 100 trees, I have written five books and I have fathered four children. That's why I can say, peacefully, at last, 'O.K. Finish.' "