In July 2020 Donnie and Ronnie Galyon passed away in a hospice at 68 years of age. Prior to their deaths, the siblings were already well-known in some quarters, as they held the title of the “World’s Oldest Conjoined Twins.” But alongside that accolade, Donnie and Ronnie’s life story is truly fascinating.
Residents of Beavercreek, Ohio, Donnie and Ronnie’s health began to deteriorate around a decade ago. However, the famous pair still managed to soldier on until the start of July 2020, at which point a big decision was made. Indeed, they were admitted into the Hospice of Dayton by their family.
Then, a few days after that, one of Ronnie and Donnie’s other siblings shared some heartbreaking news on social media. On the morning of Independence Day, Dave Galyon revealed that the record-holders had passed away. According to The Sun newspaper, their deaths came as a result of natural causes.
But roughly six years before Donnie and Ronnie lost their lives, they had enjoyed a whirlwind few months in 2014. During that period, the twins celebrated two significant landmarks that ultimately cemented their legacy. The first of those came in July of that year, when they attained a personal achievement.
At that point, Donnie and Ronnie reached the age of 62 years, 252 days old. That made them a day older than their idols Eng and Chang Bunker, who had also been joined together. The latter pair had died back in January 1874; the Thai duo were considered to be the world’s first known conjoined twins.
From there, Donnie and Ronnie’s next big landmark arrived after they turned 63 in October 2014. That’s when they earned the record as the world’s oldest conjoined twins, going past the previous holders, Italians Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci. It was an incredible moment that few would’ve seen coming during the Beavercreek residents’ younger years.
To explain more, Ronnie and Donnie’s brother Jim Galyon looked back on their childhood while speaking to YouTube channel The Wizard of Odd TV. At the time of the interview, the twins were 54 years old. Jim said, “It’s highly unexpected. Frankly, I don’t think they were expected to live past the first year or two.”
On that note, let’s cast our minds back to the day when Donnie and Ronnie were welcomed into the world. Prior to their birth, Wesley and Eileen Galyon had no inkling of what was to come. Incredibly, the latter didn’t even know that she was carrying twins ahead of the big moment at the hospital.
But that soon changed on October 28, 1951. At that stage, Eileen delivered Donnie first, with Ronnie following his brother. The twins weighed in at more than 11 pounds and appeared to be in good shape, despite being conjoined. However, the physicians at the hospital didn’t want to release them straight away.
In fact, Ronnie and Donnie spent the first two years of their lives inside that medical facility. During that period of time, their doctors pondered if they could part them without risking their safety. Given where the boys were conjoined, though, there were no easy answers over those 24 months.
For you see, Donnie and Ronnie’s bodies were joined at the waist. As the narrator of The Wizard of Odd TV video noted, “They grew two lots of hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers and stomachs, but they’re fused at the lower intestine.” In addition to that, the siblings had their own arms and legs as well.
At length, the twins’ doctors reached a conclusion: they informed Wesley and Eileen that a procedure was possible, but there was a chance that either Ronnie or Donnie would die in the process. After hearing them out, the mom and dad decided against the surgery.
Reflecting on that pivotal moment, Donnie and Ronnie both backed their parents’ stance while talking to the MLive website in July 2014. The youngest twin spoke first, as he said, “The good Lord made us. Let our savior [separate us].” His older brother concurred with that point, adding, “No surgeon’s knives.”
Yet despite opting against the surgery, Wesley and Eileen faced an altogether different problem once Donnie and Ronnie came home. Indeed, their lengthy stay at the medical facility had racked up some eye-watering costs. So as a result of that, the dad made a big decision that changed their lives forever.
Once Ronnie and Donnie turned four, Wesley loaded his sons into a car and introduced them to the carnival circuit. Before long, people across America were given the chance to gaze at the conjoined twins while they went about their business in a recreational vehicle (RV). The poster outside read, “Alive in person – Galyon Siamese twins.”
By that point in Donnie and Ronnie’s lives, they’d managed to work out a system to pull off standard daily jobs. For instance, after the brothers began to walk at 29 months old, they needed to decide which of them would move backwards. Alongside that, Wesley’s sons picked up on how to use the bathroom and fasten their laces as well.
The carnival act proved to be a massive success, drawing plenty of cash as time went on. To give you an idea of the Galyons’ financial situation over that period, Jim Galyon opened up to MLive in July 2014. He admitted, “That was the only income. [Ronnie and Donnie] were the breadwinners.”
But while Ronnie and Donnie were enjoying plenty of success on the carnival circuit, they suffered a significant blow away from it. Their folks had looked to send them to school, only for the authorities to turn them away. In their mind, the conjoined twins would have been a “distraction” for the rest of the children.
When looking back at that period, Jim told MLive, “It was a different era.” Donnie and Ronnie didn’t allow that disappointment to get them down, though, as they continued to showcase their act on the road. Regardless of its simplicity, people still wanted to watch them through the window of their RV.
Such was Ronnie and Donnie’s reputation, adverts made grand proclamations about the act too. One particular poster claimed, “Still a sensation! The Galyon Siamese twins, the U.S.’s most visited attraction on any Midway.” Yet away from their work, the brothers formed some very important bonds on the circuit.
Donnie and Ronnie got close to some of the individuals who kept the carnival going, such as the food vendors. They also befriended a few other acts, from “Little Pete” to “Johan the Viking giant.” The former was dubbed “the smallest man in the world,” as he stood at just 16 inches.
Meanwhile, Ronnie and Donnie formed a bond with a former Hollywood star as well. Indeed, Margaret Pellegrini was on the circuit – one of the Munchkins from the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Thanks to that camaraderie, the younger twin had plenty of fond memories when reflecting on those years.
Ronnie told MLive, “It was fun. You do what you got to do. When we were on the road, it was all like one big family.” But all through the years that the Galyons were eking out a living as entertainers, social attitudes were beginning to change in America. By the time the 1970s rolled around, times were getting harder for carnival performers.
Nonetheless, that didn’t spell the end of Donnie and Ronnie’s lucrative act. Instead, the future record-holders decided to travel out of the country to ply their trade elsewhere. As a result of that move, they reinvigorated their careers in South and Central America, broadening their range as performers.
In those regions, Ronnie and Donnie topped the bill at various circuses, dipping their toes into magician work. To give you an idea of their reinvented act, they once pulled off a stunt that saw a tiger vanish before the audience’s eyes. The conjoined twins’ unstinting efforts quickly built up a loyal fanbase on the circuit.
According to Jim, though, those fans didn’t just look at Ronnie and Donnie as standard circus performers. He informed MLive, “They were treated totally different down there. They were treated like rock stars.” Indeed, that exciting spell away from the States kept the siblings occupied right up until the start of the 1990s.
By 1991 Ronnie and Donnie had spent close to four decades on the road, but they finally decided to call it a day that year. From there, the brothers eventually settled into their own house in Dayton, Ohio. Yet their return to America highlighted the aforementioned differences that Jim had spoken about.
Instead of being regarded as “rock stars,” MLive reported that Donnie and Ronnie were made fun of by adults and youngsters alike. Thankfully, though, there were others who treated them with a lot more respect. As Jim noted to the website, “You see the warmest of hearts, and you see the coldest of hearts, and a little bit in between.”
To expand on that, Jim went into a bit more detail during his conversation with The Wizard of Odd TV as well. Touching on Ronnie and Donnie’s treatment in public, he said, “The mouth speaks before the brain functions. And it’s like, ‘Wow did you see that?’ or, ‘Ew, look at that!’”
Jim added, “A natural reaction is one thing, and that’s fine. But when they get a little derogatory, yeah, you step up a little bit. You say, ‘That’s my brothers, that’s not cool what you’re saying there.’” Away from the public eye, Donnie and Ronnie also needed to find ways to put up with each other.
In the flush of youth, Ronnie and Donnie hadn’t been afraid to get physical, while their arguments proved to be just as heated. Yet that didn’t really surprise Jim. As he told MLive in 2014, “They get into it verbally, of course. But that’s understandable when you got somebody right there 24-7, seven days a week, year after year after year.”
However, Donnie and Ronnie decided to leave the fisticuffs behind following a scary moment more than a decade ago. In 2009 the latter got sick with an infectious bug, which eventually led to an even bigger problem: his lungs were affected by some blood clots. As for his brother, the illness hurt him too.
So to aid their recovery, Ronnie and Donnie were prescribed with blood-thinning medication. If they came to blows after that, the results could’ve been lethal for either one of them. Furthermore, the conjoined twins started to develop arthritis on top of that, adding to their medical woes at the time.
With these issues in mind, the locals decided to help Donnie and Ronnie out in a major way. Due to their ailing health, the brothers needed to be looked after every day, meaning they could no longer stay in their old house. Jim and his partner Mary stepped up in that regard, as they offered to take on the caregiver roles.
But to make all of their lives easier, a large number of people in Beavercreek gave their free time to help build an extension together next to Jim’s property. Thanks to them, Donnie and Ronnie had a new home. Explaining further, their brother touched upon his role while speaking to The Wizard of Odd TV.
Jim said, “I agreed to start looking after [Ronnie and Donnie], taking care of business. It turned into a full-time thing, but it’s a labor of love. They’re great, I love them to death. We’re pretty close.” Then, during his conversation with MLive, he also admitted that the financial help his siblings had given the family in the past warranted his decision.
Meanwhile, Mary shed some light on what it was like looking after her brothers-in-law at home. She informed MLive, “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear ‘I love you’ and ‘Thank you.’ If you spend time around [Donnie and Ronnie], you can’t help but love them.”
Sadly, though, Ronnie and Donnie’s health took a turn for the worse in the summer of 2020, leading to their passing. After they died, Jim made an emotional statement to WHIO TV, published on the station’s website. He said, “I am grateful to the community for what they did to help Ronnie and Donnie move into their house.”
“This allowed [Ronnie and Donnie] to live with their family for the last ten years,” Jim concluded. But while the Galyon clan mourned the twins’ deaths, their world record came into focus again. Thanks to that incredible achievement, international media organizations such as British newspapers The Sun and the Daily Mail celebrated their lives.
As for the record itself, Ronnie summed up his thoughts a few months before it became official. Speaking to newspaper the Dayton Daily News in July 2014, he had said, “It’s what me and Donnie’s always dreamed about. And we hope to get the ring, because we’ve dreamed about getting this since we were kids.” It marked the perfect end to their remarkable story.