Buckley dies at 82
EmptyWilliam F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who scorned liberalism for more than two decades on the public affairs talk show "Firing Line," died Wednesday. He was 82.
His assistant Linda Bridges said Buckley's cook found him dead at his home in Stamford, Conn. The cause of death was unknown, but Buckley had been ill with emphysema, she said.
Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, "Firing Line" star, harpsichordist, transoceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor's race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.
At his best, he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent's discomfort with wide-eyed glee.
"I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition," he wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 1986. "I asked myself the other day, 'Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."
Buckley had for years been withdrawing from public life, beginning in 1990 when he stepped down as top editor of National Review. In December 1999, he closed down "Firing Line" after a 23-year run of guests ranging from Richard Nixon to Allen Ginsberg. "You've got to end sometime, and I'd just as soon not die onstage," he told the audience.
"For people of my generation, Bill Buckley was pretty much the first intelligent, witty, well-educated conservative one saw on television," fellow conservative William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said at the time the show ended. "He legitimized conservatism as an intellectual movement and therefore as a political movement."
Buckley began hosting "Firing Line" in 1966. About 1,500 weekly episodes were produced over the next 33 years, and the program won an Emmy in 1969.
Buckley founded the biweekly magazine the National Review in 1955, declaring that he proposed to stand "athwart history, yelling 'Stop' at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urge it." Not only did he help revive conservative ideology, especially unbending anti-Communism and free market economics, his persona was a dynamic break from such dour right-wing predecessors as Sen. Robert Taft.
Although it perpetually lost money, the National Review built its circulation from 16,000 in 1957 to 125,000 in 1964, the year conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was the Republican presidential candidate. The magazine claimed a circulation of 155,000 when Buckley relinquished control in 2004, citing concerns about his mortality, and over the years it attracted numerous young writers. Some remained conservative (George Will, David Brooks), and some didn't (Joan Didion, Garry Wills).
"I was very fond of him," Didion said Wednesday. "Everyone was, even if they didn't agree with him."