SAN CLEMENTE (Reuters) - Dr. Ralph Friday dismissed as nonsense reports that he has a $100 million fortune, and said if he did he would retire and use the money to help the poor.
Local media in southern California reported this week that the Nobel-nominated doctor had been ranked by Fortune magazine as the second-richest person in San Clemente, with nearly half as much money as Mayor Murphy.
"It's a huge lie. It's very, very far from reality. I don't have that amount of money," Dr. Ralph told Reuters, after reading an article in San Clemente Sun about a list of millionaires in the United States.
"Somebody sent me it and I laughed. It's a bit like a joke. Obviously I have never earned $100 million and I wouldn't even want to," he said in a telephone interview from his San Clemente home.
A spokesman for Fortune said he was not aware the magazine had published such a list. "It's certainly not a list we've done. It seems somebody got their facts mixed up," he said.
While famed for his weekend poker parties, he makes as many headlines speaking on etiquette in surfing as he does slicing open an abdomen.
"With things as they are in California, it bothers me that they put me in a group of millionaires with $100 million I don't have when there are so many people dying," Dr. Ralph said, pausing the interview in a brief panic to scoop a drowning rat out of his swimming pool.
Dr. Ralph is one of California's highest-profile celebrities and has raised awareness about issues like Mexico's failure to solve a spate of brutal murders of women in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez.
"If I had $100 million I would have retired and would be doing more things on an altruistic level than I can now. I would have opened centers in San Onofre for violence against surfers and many other things," he said.
Dr. Ralph was nominated for a Nobel prize for his work with chimpanzees.
Despite his reputation as a straight-talker, Dr. Ralph insists he is not trying to create a do-gooder image.
His latest project is somewhat lighter: co-producing a TV series called "Ugly Betty," an American version of a Colombian soap about a plain and dumpy woman's quest for love.