Updated at 9:42 p.m. ET
Charles Krauthammer, the prominent Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and commentator for the Fox News Channel, has died.
His death was confirmed by Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor for the Post. The cause of Krauthammer’s death was cancer. He was 68.
Krauthammer built up a record as an intense and prominent advocate of the invasion of Iraq and equally intense and prominent critic of President Barack Obama. Yet he was critical, even contemptuous of President Trump, despite the high regard that many Fox News viewers maintain for the president. And Krauthammer could be caustic: The Post, in its tribute, called him a provocateur. Conservatives paying homage to Krauthammer hailed him as an intellectual beacon.
“Charles had become, since the late Bush administration and certainly throughout the Obama administration, the main intellectual guidepost of the right,” Stephen Hayes, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, said in an interview. “People looked to Charles to consider how to think about things. And he was viewed as a voice of authority.”
“A gifted doctor and brilliant political commentator, Charles was a guiding voice throughout his time with Fox News and we were incredibly fortunate to showcase his extraordinary talent on our programs,” said Suzanne Scott, CEO of Fox News, in a statement. “He was an inspiration to all of us and will be greatly missed.”
A Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Krauthammer turned an unsparing eye on the nation’s politics, starting as a conservative Democrat and moving rightward over time. While at the liberal New Republic in the 1980s, Krauthammer embraced the hawkish foreign policy of President Ronald Reagan, expressing stalwart support for Israel and unrelenting opposition to the Soviet Union.
Those stances held a personal component: He was the son of two European Jews who had fled what is now Ukraine during World War II. They eventually ended up in the U.S., and Krauthammer was born in New York.
After graduating from McGill University in Montreal and studying at Oxford University, Krauthammer enrolled at Harvard Medical School. “I was looking for something halfway between the reality of medicine and the elegance, if you like, of philosophy,” Krauthammer recalled in a 2013 special on Fox News. “So psychiatry was the obvious thing. That was my intention from the first day.”
He believed that choice was a stroke of good fortune. At the age of 22, at Harvard, during a week in which he studied spinal cords, Krauthammer suffered a fateful neck injury while diving at a swimming pool near campus. He finished his medical training but would be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He later concluded that psychiatry would be the easiest medical discipline to pursue given his new physical limitations. And Krauthammer distinguished himself as a researcher and in private practice.
However, he was dissatisfied with the profession, deciding he wanted to reach a broader platform. He would write contrarian pieces for the liberal New Republic, advocating a stronger military budget, a muscular anti-Soviet stance and U.S. support for the Nicaraguan Contras, among other positions.
The former New Republic writer Jacob Weisberg said Krauthammer and another greatly influential figure, Leon Wieseltier, fought over matters both ideological and personal, as they each sought the favor of then-owner Marty Peretz.
“Leon and Charles would snipe back and forth at each other, nastily and often quite hilariously, in the editorial meetings,” Weisberg, now the editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, wrote in an email to NPR. “Eventually the feuding got so unpleasant that Charles moved out and rented his own office across the street. You could look out the window and see Charles working at his desk.”
“Politically, Charles made a right turn that most others at the magazine didn’t follow. But I think his old colleagues not only liked him a great deal personally but admired him as a principled conservative — today an endangered species. After Charles, it takes another big step toward extinction.”
He raised hackles in a broad range across the political spectrum — from his defense of the use of torture to his strong opposition to Trump. Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Krauthammer a fearless thinker who never pandered.
“That’s a rare quality in broadcasting,” Carlson told NPR. “Even when he knew they overwhelmingly opposed his position on something, he said what he thought. He made the case for higher gas taxes and more foreign wars, for example, and he pretty relentlessly criticized Trump.
“I can’t imagine many of our viewers agreed with him on any of that, but they loved him anyway,” Carlson said. “They could listen to Charles because they trusted him, and I suspect they gave him credit for honesty. Pretty impressive, I thought.”
While he often dealt with fatigue and pain it was a cancer unrelated to his paralysis that ultimately threatened his life, and he took leave last year from Fox and the Post. In a poignant farewell column earlier this month, Krauthammer wrote he had “no regrets.”
“This is the final verdict. My fight is over,” Krauthammer wrote. “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.”