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Death Comes for the Good, the Bad, and...


Alex Shoumatoff

Two people I knew have died in the last few days. They couldn't have been more different. John Nichols and Henry Kissinger.

I first met John in a bookstore in his hometown Taos in 1991. I was gathering material for my book on the Southwest and John was holding forth uproariously before a small crowd of admirers and cracking them up. I was drawn by the bellows of laughter. We became good buddies. I discovered that his grandfather had been the curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History and that he had been a student of the Reverend Gary Davis before me. He was a hardcore leftie from an old East Coast WASP family who would give you the shirt off his back. A night owl who lived in a small house crammed to the gills with books and never progressed to computers or the Internet. He composed his many books and his long delightful Christmas messages banging away on an old typewriter. I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago and he sounded on his last legs. He had a bad heart and a defibrillator. A more delightful wonderful human being has yet to grace this planet.

Kissinger, on the other hand, was a motherfucker. I took his popular course at Harvard on the realpolitik of Metternich and Bismarck in 1967 and he even came to tea once at our digs in Eliot House junior year. From there he went to Washington and took American foreign policy to new despicable levels. A more horrible human being can scarcely be imagined. It takes all kinds.

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Alex Shoumatoff is the author of 11 books. He has been a staff writer at the The New Yorker, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Esquire, Outside, and Condé Nast Traveler.

The Washington Post's fine obituary of John Nichols here.