Charles Krauthammer, 68, a renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and “intellectual provocateur,” says The Washington Post obituary, died Thursday, June 21.
Cause of death was cancer of the small intestine.
Absolutely brilliant in every meaning of the word, he grew up in Montreal, the son of Jewish Orthodox parents who wanted him to go to medical school. He received a degree in political science and economics from Montreal’s Gill University and then studied political theory at the University of Oxford, then entered Harvard Medical School. In the summer after his first year of med school when he was 22, he dove into a concrete pool from a springboard and hit his head, snapping his spinal cord. Having studied neurology, he said he “knew exactly what happened the second it happened.”
He spent 14 months in intensive physical therapy while being tutored to complete school with his class, which he did, graduating in 1975 as quadriplegic, with a degree in psychiatry. He said what pained him the most was the fear people might evaluate him by different standards because he was in a wheelchair, with limited use of his hands.
“If I can just muddle though life, they’ll say it was great achievement,” he said. “That would be the greatest defeat in my life — if I allowed that. The worst thing is when they tell me how courageous I am. That drives me to distraction. I decided if I could make people judge me by the old standard, that would be a triumph and that’s what I try to do. It seemed to me the only way to live.”
After an internship, he became chief resident of the psychiatric consultation service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and an official at the federal Health and Human Services Department in Washington.
Soon thereafter he switched paths becoming a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1980 presidential election. Then he joined the staff of the liberal magazine New Republic, receiving a National Magazine Award in 1984. He joined the Post in 1985, writing a national syndicated column that appeared in the News-Times, adhering to no political party line.
On Friday, June 8, he delivered a letter to the Post:
I have been uncharacteristically silent these past 10 months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.
In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.
However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.
I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.
Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.
I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.
Awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1987 for his columns in the Post, he also appeared in Time, the Weekly Standard and the National Interest foreign policy journal. He was also an omnipresent aura with his commentary on Fox News.
His books are essay collections, Cutting Edges: Making Sense of the Eighties (1985) and Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics (2013).
“When his admirers say he was learned, they mean that Krauthammer had deep respect for the importance of knowledge and facts,” says The Wall Street Journal. Any Krauthammer commentary was grounded in facts — whether the lessons of history, as in the Middle East, or the dynamic facts of a legislative struggle on Capitol Hill. A typical Krauthammer column or TV appearance was a reflection or judgment on fact-based reality. Which is to Krauthammer was old school.
“What does that mean? It means that Krauthammer didn’t do snark and he didn’t sneer at opponents. … His humor was sly and never mean-spirited. He didn’t build his opinions out of emotional resentments. He wasn’t tribal. He refused to be any politician’s cheerleader. He was his own man. … Good and honorable journalism has lost one of its great practitioners.”
On today’s op-ed page, we reprint one of his columns “Rick Ankiel’s redemption, drawing on the 1984 movie “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs. His last five sentences are terribly poignant.