NEW YORK—Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, and longtime conservative commentator passed away on Thursday, June 21, at age 68.
His death was announced by two organizations that employed him, Fox News Channel and The Washington Post.
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Krauthammer had said publicly a year ago he was being treated for a cancerous tumor in his abdomen and earlier this month revealed that he likely had just weeks to live.
“I leave this life with no regrets,” Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post, where his column had run since 1984. “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.”
Sometimes scornful, sometimes reflective, he was awarded a Pulitzer in 1987 for “his witty and insightful” commentary and was an influential voice among Republicans, whether through his syndicated column or his appearances on Fox News Channel. He was most associated with Brit Hume’s nightly newscast and stayed with it when Bret Baier took over in 2009.
Krauthammer is credited with coining the term “The Reagan Doctrine” for President Reagan’s policy of aiding anti-Communist movements worldwide. He was a leading advocate for the Iraq War and a prominent critic of the Obama administration’s “hesitation, delay and indecision.”
Krauthammer was a former Harvard medical student who graduated even after he was paralyzed from the neck down because of a diving board accident, continuing his studies from his hospital bed. He was a Democrat in his youth and his political engagement dated back to 1976, when he handed out leaflets for Henry Jackson’s unsuccessful presidential campaign.
But through the 1980s and beyond, Krauthammer followed a journey akin to such neo-conservative predecessors as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, turning against his old party on foreign and domestic issues. He aligned with Republicans on everything from confrontation with the Soviet Union to rejection of the “Great Society” programs enacted during the 1960s.
“As I became convinced of the practical and theoretical defects of the social-democratic tendencies of my youth, it was but a short distance to a philosophy of restrained, free-market governance that gave more space and place to the individual and to the civil society that stands between citizen and state,” he wrote in the introduction to “Things That Matter,” a million-selling compilation of his writings published in 2013.
For the Post, Time magazine, The New Republic and other publications, Krauthammer wrote on a wide range of subjects, and in “Things That Matter” listed chess, baseball, “the innocence of dogs” and “the cunning of cats” among his passions. As a psychiatrist in the 1970s, he did groundbreaking research on bipolar disorder.
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Krauthammer married Robyn Trethewey, an artist and former attorney, in 1974. They had a son, Daniel, who also became a columnist and commentator.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Europe, Krauthammer was born in New York City and moved with his family to Montreal when he was 5, growing up in a French-speaking home. His path to political writing was unexpected. First, at McGill University, he became editor in chief of the student newspaper after his predecessor was ousted over what Krauthammer called his “mindless, humorless Maoism.”
In the late 1970s, while a psychiatric resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor with whom he had researched manic depression was appointed to a mental health agency created by President Jimmy Carter. Krauthammer went, too, began writing for The New Republic and was soon recruited to write speeches for Carter’s vice president and 1980 running mate, Walter Mondale.
Carter was defeated by Reagan and on Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan’s inauguration day, Krauthammer formally joined The New Republic as a writer and editor.
“These quite fantastic twists and turns have given me a profound respect for serendipity,” he wrote in 2013. “A long forgotten, utterly trivial student council fight brought me to journalism. A moment of adolescent anger led me to the impulsive decision to quit political studies and enroll in medical school. A decade later, a random presidential appointment having nothing to do with me brought me to a place where my writing and public career could begin.
“When a young journalist asks me today, ‘How do I get to a nationally syndicated columnist?’ I have my answer: ‘First, go to medical school.'”