Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, best known to the world at large as a popular pundit on the Fox News Channel, has never been one to mince words.
Thus it was both heartbreaking and reassuring to the 68-year-old Krauthammer’s friends and fans when he released a poignant open letter Friday announcing that he has terminal cancer and only a few weeks to live.
“This is the final verdict. My fight is over,” Krauthammer wrote in a note that was reminiscent—in its unflinching acceptance of reality, with grace notes of joy and optimism—of Ronald Reagan’s Nov. 5, 1994 letter revealing his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I leave this life with no regrets,” Krauthammer added. “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.”
Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post, told The Daily Beast that his friend’s letter “strikes me as very Charlesian in the way it’s taking things on his own terms and dealing with them unsentimentally.”
Krauthammer—a Harvard-educated medical doctor who initially trained as a psychiatrist and began writing his Post column in 1985 after several years at the New Republic and a stint as a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale—“is very honest about the fact that he wishes things were otherwise,” Hiatt added. “He had lots of columns that he wanted to write, books he wanted to write, but I think he also means it when he says he lived the life he chose to live and he’s leaving it without regret.”
Krauthammer, who won the 1987 Pulitzer for commentary, wrote his last Friday column in August 2017. Always skeptical of the 45th president, his final column was a celebration of sorts that constitutional checks and balances were restraining the worst impulses of Donald Trump—just as Krauthammer was learning that he had a malignant stomach tumor.
More than four decades earlier, in his first year at Harvard Medical School, a catastrophic diving board accident left him paralyzed below the neck—requiring him to use a specially outfitted motorized wheelchair, among other daunting physical challenges that he seldom discussed and never complained about.
His essay collection Things That Matter—part memoir and part manifesto—didn’t even mention his disability, although Krauthammer briefly talked about it in a 2015 Fox News documentary timed to the release of the book.
“He’s never used his handicap to feather his nest,” said former Fox News executive Michael Clemente, who helmed the documentary that was broadcast nearly two dozen times on the channel and helped turn the book into a massive bestseller.
“I don’t think he has ever been fully comfortable with the big deal he had become,” Clemente told The Daily Beast. “He wrote the book and he agreed to do the television version of it, not for himself but because he knew that time was running out and he wanted to take care of his family. He knew, medically, that for someone with his complications, the clock had almost already run out. So he wanted to do what he could, like any good caretaker of a family.”
Clemente added that Krauthammer, albeit disabled, “didn’t let any of that affect any of what he wanted to do. He drove himself to work in a van that was specially outfitted, and after the [Special Report] show”—on which he was a member of the “All Star Panel”—“he often went to the Washington Nationals game. If there was any self-pity, it was in the deep privacy of his home, because you couldn’t see it anywhere. He’d flirt with the girls at work and he’d be very funny.”
Reacting to Friday’s letter, Clemente said: “He’s just such a brave, smart man—who else would handle something like this the way he’s done it? He’s always thinking of other people. He knows that a lot of his fans have been wondering why he’s been off the air.”
Clemente, who as head of the channel’s straight-news coverage for seven years worked closely with Krauthammer, a ubiquitous presence on the 6 p.m. Special Report program, added: “Even though he had some hope months ago that maybe he was going to get past these complications, he now knows he’s not and he’s letting everybody know.”
In a statement, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said: “Charles has been a profound source of personal and intellectual inspiration for all of us at Fox News. 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. His words, his ideas, his dignity and his integrity will resonate within our society and within me for many, many years to come.”
“I’ve met many extraordinary people in my 57 years. Charles Krauthammer is without exception the most extraordinary,” Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz wrote on Twitter.
Joe Scarborough tweeted: “This note from @ Krauthammer is terribly sad news on a day already filled with anguish. Charles writes that his end is near but knows his life has been a race well run. How I will miss his words and wisdom. But will refer to them always for future guidance.”
Krauthammer’s Fox News colleagues celebrated what Chris Wallace called “a life of passion and great consequence.”
“He led his life fully, vibrantly,” Wallace said on Friday’s installment of Outnumbered. “Yes, he was very badly disabled. No use of his legs, almost no use of his hands, and yet he lived a full life. He had a car outfitted so he could drive the streets of Washington. He loved his Washington Nationals. He lived a life of passion and great consequence.”
Special Report host Bret Baier, meanwhile, told Daily Briefing anchor Dana Perino about Krauthammer’s letter: “Frankly it takes your breath away. We were ready to start making plans to have him be back on the panel [before Krauthammer’s prognosis took a turn for the worse]… His voice is missed every day.
"But what you didn’t know was what was happening behind the scenes in the commercial breaks. He was the funniest—a dry sense of humor, and he could make the panel crack up at a moment’s notice. I’m just really happy that he put this out so that he can see how much the world loves him—and how much he changed the world.”