King Cohn | The Nation


King Cohn

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How could he avoid self-hatred? He betrayed his moralistic Jewish inheritance, betrayed his political party (he never quit claiming to be a Democrat), tricked his friends, defrauded his law partners, cheated his clients, treated his profession like a whorehouse. It was only natural, and doubtless subconsciously to him seemed absolutely just, that as punishment he destroy his own reputation and his body.

Citizen Cohn
By Nicholas von Hoffman
483 pp.

The Autobiography of Roy Cohn,
By Sidney Zion
Lyle Stuart
284 pp.

About the Author

Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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As everyone knows, Cohn, "the bestk-nown non-showbusiness homosexual in the country," died of AIDS.

When he was young, he dated girls. He claimed to have been engaged to Barbara Walters at one time. They were friends for many years, but he had few other women friends. Some who knew him well say he hated women.

Just how long he was a homosexual is not clear. Zion says a doctor told him that Cohn had been having sex with men since he was 15. Von Hoffman cites a reporter who remembers seeing Cohn in the homosexual bars around Washington when Cohn was in his mid-20s. But others say they knew-- because they shared hotel rooms with him--that Cohn engaged in straight sex as a young man. Always with prostitutes. Not nice girls. And even with the prostitutes, one of his old pals says, "He seemed to be one of those people who was just weird about sex the way he was weird about everything else."

Von Hoffman indicates that Cohn really came out of the closet when his mother died. Others have said the same. It isn't surprising that they link the twists and turns of his sex life to his mother, an extremely dominating woman. She and Roy were so close it was rumored he used to date her. In any event, by the 1970s Cohn found his relaxation in places that were, as a lover reported, "wall-to-wall anywhere from sixteen-year-olds to thirty-year-old body builders who'd be wearing dungarees with a surface tension of sixty pounds per square inch. We're talking about guys with huge musculature packed into T-shirts with stuffed crotches [sic], bikini briefs stuffed with Kleenex--a 'big box' is what it's called."

Cohn was a particularly nasty homosexual. He was often a favored guest at the ranch of multimillionaire Shearn Moody, who readily provided, we learn, "many little boys of the night" to guests who desired them. The story is that one night Cohn desired a boy who turned out to have warts on his penis, but Cohn said, "Oh well, I don't care." And the first thing you know, Cohn had "venereal warts on his anus."

Cohn's appetite for sex was hearty, to say the least. One of his longtime lovers told von Hoffman, "The joke was five a night at a hundred a pop. Roy was incredibly promiscuous." Another said, "Roy had to have sex every night, and no matter what the cost...he would have someone there. If it wasn't me, it was Peter, Dirk, a guy named Bill who did porno movies....no matter what, he had to have it every night. And then he would beat off afterward to pornography...I think for all the times he liked to be on the top so much, he loved being on the bottom."

Cohn was rumored to have humped, or been humped by, Schine, his colleague of the McCarthy days, but von Hoffman says there is no evidence of such a relationship. Ditto the rumors that he humped, or was humped by, his dirt-supplying pal J. Edgar Hoover. Ditto the rumors that he humped, or was humped by, Cardinal Spellman (who reputedly was hot for choir boys) all very, very close friends of Cohn, to be sure, but by von Hoffman's reckoning they serviced one another only in political ways.

What of Cohn's rumored relationship with homosexuals around Reagan?

When Roy's name comes up among straight people with an inside knowledge of Washington politics, particularly Democrats, there is speculating about him and the "lavender Mafia," which is the group of closet homosexuals in important positions in the Reagan administration. Whether a "ring" of such men, bound together by power, politics, and sexual preference, exists depends as much on semantics as observed behavior. However the ring question is resolved, one of Roy's paths of access to the Reagan administration, but only one of several, was his connection with certain homosexual men near the White House.

This seems to be a line of investigation that von Hoffman was too lazy to pursue. Roughly how many men does he mean? How close to the White House do these rumors take us? How high do they go? (He does mention one "important operative in the Reagan camp," whatever that means.) Von Hoffman leaves these questions alone.

Typically disloyal, Cohn gave no support to homosexuals who were trying to win public acceptance. He called them "fags," did all he could to make their lives miserable, lectured against them, berated politicians for any display of tolerance toward homosexuals and urged laws to restrict their freedom. To his death he denied that he was homosexual, but the Dorian Gray scene of his lying of AIDS said it all: "Roy...lay in bed, unheeding, his flesh cracking open, sores on his body, his faculties waning" and with a one-inch "slit-like wound above [his] anus."

It's said that the one true love in Roy Cohn's life was his spaniel, Charlie Brown.

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