News that Charles now has weeks to live, that cancer will take him, was beyond my imagination. The rightful, peaceful ending was not in store. For Charles, whose life was forever altered by a knife-twist of fate, there would be yet another tragic accident. Speaking directly in a public letter, Charles was valiant as ever. He acknowledged a vicious and arbitrary cancer, which had been there but was gone a month ago, had returned for good, and said, “This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”
Charles, like all heroes, leads us by his example. In Bret Baier’s extraordinary 2013 Fox News special on Krauthammer, “A Life That Matters,” Charles’ describes his diving accident, and his refusal to dwell on it. His staggering resolve led him to finish medical school on time, while recovering in the hospital, with his lessons projected on the ceiling above. Putting off his studies would have been “fatal,” Charles told Bret. Years later Charles would begin driving again, while sitting in a wheelchair. He once explained this miraculous development to me, citing the man who engineered a customized car for him, in riveting detail. His retelling revealed just what this path back to freedom meant, and what it felt like. Charles was smiling and exuberant and I held back tears, hoping he wouldn’t notice me choke up.
Being on the “Special Report” panel every week with Charles, from May of 2009 until August of 2017, was an honor and a privilege. He had a singular presence there, a towering intellect free of arrogance. But alongside his warmth and calm and ease, Charles concentrated intently because he cared deeply about his contribution to the topic at hand and the words millions would hang on. To focus himself, sometimes he mumbled quietly in French before we went live.
Seated to his right, or the left for viewers, I tried to limit the number of times I agreed with him, at least out loud. Off camera he unleashed the more mischievous side of his humor, some that almost disrupted our few minutes on the air. I remember the first time he made me bust out laughing, when a rather homely Obama administration official was eagerly talking up the stimulus in a clip Bret played during our discussion. Charles said, in pure deadpan, “Look at her, she’s just left a yard sale. She has a Mr. Coffee under her arm.” I lost it, the clip ended, and we were live, with me hunched over the table trying to control myself.
In nine years the only debate I ever won with Charles was about the 2011 debt reduction super committee that ultimately admitted failure and yielded the sequester. Charles, who had written a column touting its potential, conceded it was one of the rare instances when he had “not been cynical enough.” Roll the tape, the only — and very rare — moments Krauthammer ever backed down on “Special Report” were never due to a weaker fact arsenal but rather a temporary lapse of cynicism that affected his analysis.
Though we both love politics it was our discussions of parenthood that I savored the most. The most poignant anecdote involved a former friend of Charles’ beloved son Daniel turning on and bullying him, causing Charles such acute pain he couldn’t eat a full meal for a month. Charles did all he could to not allow his paralysis to alter fatherhood — taking Daniel skiing though he couldn’t join him, sharing themed movie marathons locked in a room every Christmas Day while asking his devoted wife, Robyn, to “throw food at us,” and imparting a love of learning that Charles was raised to embrace by his own father. I loved the story of him driving a young Daniel to New York, and pulling up to the hotel just as the climax unfolded in the audiobook they were listening to. “Keep driving,” the enthralled Daniel commanded his father, who did just that. I hold it up to this day with envy as an unrivaled parenting triumph.
Charles respected the hard work of parenting, that it wasn’t supposed to be easy. Many years ago, when my three teenagers were young, Charles encountered me before the show one night in one of my traditional Christmas collapses. Why so morose he asked me? I lamented the burden of keeping the magic alive — I was tired, broke, out of ideas for presents, out of time to buy them and wrap them and decorate and pack for whatever trip we were taking the day after and, I admitted to the entire makeup room, I hated Christmas. Dr. Krauthammer didn’t even pause — he said he was taking over my case, for which he would prescribe: 1) conversion to Judaism, 2) bedrest; and 3) sedatives, if necessary. I will forever cling, as I have each jolly season since, to his prescription that makes me smile through my Christmas grimace.
Charles and I spoke a lot about the importance of imprinting memories in our children. He loved to hear about our beach vacations the most. I knew he loved the beach, but I didn’t know how much, until I read about it — somewhat by accident. One night, leaving a “Special Report” dinner at Union Station, Charles and I were headed back to the garage at the Fox bureau when we were approached by an African-American man in his 50s who was leaving work there. He sprinted up to us to tell Charles he had always admired him, that he didn’t agree with him but that Charles always had the facts and he was always fair. Charles thanked him and we said goodbye. Then the man added that he had loved Charles’ column on his brother the most. Charles wore a straight face and thanked him again. I was stunned, sheepish that I had not only not read the piece but had never even heard about it. As we got out to the street, Charles said that of all the hundreds of columns he had written in his life it was that one, from 2006, that still prompted the most response.
I wasn’t carrying an iPhone then, so I read it as soon as I got home. “Marcel” is a masterpiece. In it I learned about a devoted older brother, and their shared passion nurtured by their father, who would insist on taking them out of school early each year in Canada in order to have three full months at a small cottage they had at the shore in Long Beach, N.Y.
“For those three months of endless summer Marcel and I were inseparable — vagabond brothers shuttling endlessly on our Schwinns from beach to beach, ballgame to ballgame. Day and night, we played every sport ever invented, and some games, like three-step stoopball and sidewalk Spaldeen, we just made up ourselves. … It was paradise.”
Charles and I would later discuss Marcel’s cancer battle when my father began his own, in 2011, at the same hospital at UCLA. Charles was That Doctor Friend we all need, but few have. He checked in regularly on my dad’s journey from diagnosis, to dreadful treatment rollercoasters, to the end. Charles’ knowledge, and his comfort with all of it, was uniquely comforting to me.
Charles and I weren’t fated to become friends or colleagues, it was an accident — and one of the greatest blessings of my life. In the days since Charles wrote his public letter I have wept over the moments we all shared with him, the things I remember him telling me, of the many I can’t recall, and the fact that there won’t be any more of them.
But as Charles has always done, we must face forward. Read his book “Things That Matter” and watch Bret’s special. If you are a student of Charles, share his gift as far and as wide as you can. If you were his friend and he inspired you and graced your life as he did mine, count this blessing and then try to create more students of Charles. We need them, desperately.
We don’t take the ride, it takes us. But we can take him along.
Heidi Gratson says
I just want to thank you for this most wonderful article.
Although I did not know Charles he was an inspiration to us all. May he rest in peace. We will never forget what an amazing man he was
John Wood says
The man was a testament to the best of mankind in a world not noted for that. Rest in peace Charles. My prayers go out to his family, friends & colleagues.
David Bowers says
My wife and I lways enjoyed Charles and his wit and commentary. I wish he’d been able to weigh in on the lack of honest political debate regarding Immigration. Perhaps Congress would have been embarrassed enough after his scolding to actually pass honest and meaningful legislation. Charles will be greatly missed and we should be thankful for his life and sharing it with us.
Beautiful words! Dr. Charles Krauthammer inspired so many with his thoughts through words. Your column is worthy of the great man. I dare say there are no words for how much he will be missed or how desperately we need his intellect.
Charles Krauthammer died today.
I have been listening to the responses, recollections, praises of those of you who knew him. I am just a viewer but in s strange way, I feel as though I knew him too and am very sad to lose him.
Thanks to FOX news for sharing this great man with millions of us. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to and learn from him. He he will forever be missed.
jack Cascio says
Three of my favorite people who have inspired me the most in my seventy one years on earth have left for a better world; my father, Tim Russert and now Charles Krauthammer. Thank you all for offering your wisdom, your common sense, your wit, your intelligence and having such a influence on my mind, my heart and my soul. I am forever indebted to you. Love you Dad.
Three beautiful sources of influence to whom tribute is due. Your words paid it well.
Sherolyn Shove says
Such a wonderful article about our beloved Charles Kraruthammer! His mind was amazing and touched me every time I saw him on Fox. I always stopped in my tracks if he was on. His words meant so much no matter what the subject. He will be missed so very much! I love this man and his contribution to our world,
Thank you for your words here, and on Fox tonight, about your friend. I am sorry for your loss, and grieve with the rest of Mr. Krauthammer’s family and friends.
Betsey merclean says
Wonderful article and recollections of an extraordinary man.
Art Honig says
So sorry for your – and the world’s – loss.
I, along with millions of others, I’m sure, wish I had met this man.
So much has been said about Dr. Krauthammer that I fear I have nothing to add.
I’ll close by saying God Bless Dr. Charles Krauthammer, you, and all of us.
James M Brown says
I get teary-eyed for very few people that I don’t know when something like this happens. Charles was one that did it to me.