Alexander Cockburn in 1977. (AP Photo/File)
Alexander Cockburn, a longtime columnist for The Nation magazine and co-editor (with Jeffrey St. Clair) CounterPunch, died Friday night in Berlin at the age of 71 after a two-year battle with cancer. Cockburn, who penned The Nation’s “Beat the Devil” column since 1984, was one of America’s best-known radical journalists (here is a selection of our favorite columns).
He was born in Scotland and grew up in Ireland. He graduated from Oxford in 1963 with a degree in English literature and language. A permanent resident of the United States since 1973, Cockburn wrote for many years for the Village Voice about the press and politics. Since then he had contributed to many publications, including The New York Review of Books, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly and the Wall Street Journal (where he had a regular column from 1980 to 1990), as well as alternative publications such as In These Times and the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
We’ve asked Alex’s friends and colleagues in The Nation family to share their memories of him, and we’ve culled a selection of eulogies from around the web. We’ll update this post as more contributions come in.
My beloved uncle—he opposed bad wars, pompous people, the casual cruelty of conventional thought, and he dared always to extend his own neck first for the chop.
I loved him, from the early days thirty years ago, when he incited me to leave old London for what he relished as fresh America, to the last weeks when he urged me to write and stick to my path. His was the voice that rang out early from the couch: “Are you ready to greet the day with unbridled optimism?” He told me earlier this year he’d never been depressed a day in his life.
Alexander cared for horses, cooked cordon bleu with cockatiel Percy on his shoulder, and wrote daily with dog Jasper at his feet. He could grill a pork chop on a car muffler, prune an apple tree to perfection and rescue a classic car from any dump. He lived brave and bold and built a loving community with his friends and daughter, Daisy, in Petrolia, endowing an annual art prize at the local college, Humboldt State.
Alexander inspired us to think smarter, write better, read more, and above all, to think for ourselves. He believed in a great animating spirit in everything. May he unleash ours.
Alex Cockburn and I became close friends in the mid-1980s, when my family and I were living in Riverside, California, and I was teaching at UC-Riverside. The location is important, because one of the main reasons I got to know Alex so well was because he loved coming to Riverside, and staying for long stretches. This was because Riverside—then as now—was decidedly un-hip, the opposite of, say, West Los Angeles or the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
There has never been a houseguest like Alex. We always welcomed his visits, even though it was never clear that we had invited him in the first place. He would arrive invariably in a beautiful old 1950s American car, including, for a while, a spectacular red Chrysler Imperial convertible, that he then kept in our garage for about a year. A measure of Alex’s fundamental inner tranquility was that, the one and only time we took the Imperial for a drive in Alex’s absence, we parked it in the K-Mart parking lot near our house. Sure enough when we came out of K-Mart, the car had been scratched. I was prepared to receive Alex’s wrath, but instead he took the news in stride, asking whether we had enjoyed our spin in this amazing chariot of a vehicle.