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Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and board-certified psychiatrist who became one of the media’s most powerful voices for conservative politics — while wooing a fair share of liberals along the way — died Thursday, his son told The Washington Post. He was 68.
On June 8, Krauthammer, a quadriplegic, revealed in a note published in the Post that doctors had informed him that he had only a “few weeks” to live because cancer removed from his abdomen 10 months earlier had returned.
Until a year ago, Krauthammer was a regular on the Fox News Channel, most notably on Special Report, where he was known as the “dean” in a segment featuring a panel of pundits the show referred to as “The Fox News All-Stars.” He also appeared often on The O’Reilly Factor before host Bill O’Reilly was ousted after accusations of sexual misconduct, and he spent 23 years as a weekly panelist on the PBS show Inside Washington.
“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” Krauthammer wrote in the Post. “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.”
Aside from politics and medicine, his loves included chess (he was a member of the Chess Journalists of America) and baseball, dedicating a portion of his last book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, to the sport. The book, published in 2014, spent 38 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
After Krauthammer disclosed his dire prognosis, 21st Century Fox co-executive chairman Rupert Murdoch called him “a profound source of personal and intellectual inspiration for all of us at Fox News.”
Added Murdoch: “His always principled stand on the most important issues of our time has been a guiding star in an often turbulent world, a world that has too many superficial thinkers vulnerable to the ebb and flow of fashion and a world that, unfortunately, has only one Charles Krauthammer.”
Through the years, Krauthammer collected praise from his political opponents, joking eight years ago that “my career is done” after President Bill Clinton called him “a brilliant man” during a news conference.
Krauthammer’s opponents also lauded him for announcing he would not vote for Republican Donald Trump for president — though he also said he wouldn’t vote for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He joked in a column that he’d like to cast a write-in vote for physician-philosopher Albert Schweitzer, except that he’s “doubly unavailable,” since he died in 1965 and was not a U.S. citizen.
In fact, Krauthammer parted ways with conservatives on a host of issues, arguing, for example, in favor of legalized abortion, against the death penalty and for higher energy taxes for the sake of environmentalism.
“I detested the extreme left and extreme right,” he said when reflecting on his degrees in economics and political science that he earned at McGill University in Montreal, where radicals ruled in the early 1970s.
Krauthammer was thrust into fame in 1985 when, in a Time magazine article, he coined the phrase “The Reagan Doctrine,” a reference to President Ronald Reagan’s support for those who were fighting communism in foreign countries.
In 2012, he earned a rare private and public apology from the White House after President Barack Obama’s communications director said Krauthammer’s report that a bust of Winston Churchill had been returned to the British Embassy was “patently false” because it was still in the White House. The spokesman, though, was apparently unaware that there had been two busts of Churchill, and Obama later acknowledged he returned one of them to replace it with one of Martin Luther King Jr.
Krauthammer was born in New York to Orthodox Jewish parents. He spoke French and Hebrew and attended a Jewish school as a child, but he said he was not religious as an adult and railed against the theory of “intelligent design.” Some mistook him for an atheist, though he said in 2005 that “atheism is the least possible of all theologies.”
Krauthammer studied politics at Baillol College, Oxford, before enrolling at Harvard Medical School where, in his first year, he suffered a neck injury on a pool diving board, paralyzing him and putting him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Despite spending 14 months hospitalized, he graduated on time with his classmates. Then, he spent three years at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he identified a variant of manic depression he called “secondary mania.”
In politics, Krauthammer started as a Democrat, moving to Washington to work in psychiatric research under President Carter. He began writing for the liberal magazine The New Republic two years later and penned speeches for Vice President Walter Mondale. Krauthammer’s political views back then, wrote Hendrick Hertzberg in The New Yorker, were “70 percent Mondale liberal and 30 percent Scoop Jackson Democrat.”
Krauthammer’s first column for the Post appeared in 1985, and he won the Pulitzer for commentary in 1987.
Krauthammer supported the war in Afghanistan, both wars in Iraq and the war on terror in general under President George W. Bush, writing that “there is not a single, remotely plausible, alternative strategy for attacking the monster behind 9/11. It’s not Osama bin Laden; it is the cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world — oppression transmuted and deflected by regimes with no legitimacy into virulent, murderous anti-Americanism.”
Meg Greenfield, who edited Krauthammer’s Post columns for 15 years, called his writing “independent and hard to peg politically. It’s a very tough column. There’s no ‘trendy’ in it. You never know what is going to happen next.”
In 2009, Krauthammer joked about his mortality in a column about death counseling: “My own living will, which I have always considered more a literary than legal document, basically says: ‘I’ve had some good innings, thank you. If I have anything so much as a hangnail, pull the plug.'”
Krauthammer endured much more than that, acknowledging June 8 “a long and hard fight with many setbacks … recent tests have revealed that the cancer is back … it is aggressive and spreading rapidly.”
Survivors include his wife, Robyn, whom he married in 1974, and son Daniel.
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