Terry Anderson, Reporter Held Hostage for Six Years, Dies at 76


Terry Anderson, the American journalist who had been the longest-held Western hostage in Lebanon when he was finally released in 1991 by Islamic militants after more than six years in captivity, died Saturday at his home in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley. He was 76.

The cause was apparently complications of recent heart surgery, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

Mr. Anderson, the Beirut bureau chief for The Associated Press, had just dropped his tennis partner, an A.P. photographer, at his home after an early morning tennis match on March 16, 1985, when men armed with pistols yanked open his car door and shoved him into a Mercedes-Benz. The same car had tried to cut him off the day before as he returned to work from lunch at his seaside apartment.

The kidnappers, identified as Shia Hezbollah militants of the Islamic Jihad Organization in Lebanon, beat him, blindfolded him and kept him chained in some 20 hideaways for 2,454 days in Beirut, South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

The militants, supported by Iran, indicated that they were retaliating against Israel’s use of American weapons in earlier strikes against Muslim and Druze targets in Lebanon. They also had been seeking to pressure the Reagan administration to secretly facilitate the illegal sales of weapons to Iran — an embarrassing scheme that became known as the Iran-Contra Affair because the administration had planned to use proceeds from the arms sales to secretly subsidize the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Mr. Anderson was the last of 18 Western hostages released by the kidnappers. After his release, he married his fiancé, who had been pregnant when he was kidnapped, and, for the first time, met his 6-year-old daughter.

While he had not been tortured during his captivity, he said, he was beaten and chained. He spent a year or so, on and off, in solitary confinement, he said.

“There is nothing to hold on to, no way to anchor my mind,” he said after the ordeal. “I try praying, every day, sometimes for hours. But there’s nothing there, just a blankness. I’m talking to myself, not God.”

He found some consolation in the Bible, though, and added: “The only real defense was to remember that no one could take away my self-respect and dignity — only I could do that.”

Terry Alan Anderson was born on Oct. 27, 1947, in Lorain, Ohio, where his father, Glen, was the village police officer. When he was still young, the family moved to Batavia in Western New York where his father drove a truck and his mother, Lily (Lunn) Anderson, was a waitress.

After graduating from high school, he was accepted by the University of Michigan and offered a scholarship, but decided to join the Marines instead. He served for five years in Japan, Okinawa and Vietnam as a combat journalist and a final year in Iowa as a recruiter.

After he was discharged, he earned degrees in journalism and political science from Iowa State University while working for a local television station.

He worked for The A.P. in Japan and South Africa before beginning a two-and-a-half-year stint in Lebanon in 1983.

After his release, he owned a blues bar in Athens, Ohio, and ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Ohio State Senate in 2004. He sued Iran for $100 million in damages in a federal court and eventually collected about $26 million from that nation’s assets that had been frozen in the United States. His windfall lasted about seven years; he filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Mr. Anderson established a foundation, the Vietnam Children’s Fund, with a friend, Marcia Landau, which built more than 50 schools in Vietnam. He was the honorary chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

He also taught at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, the University of Kentucky and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

In addition to his daughter Sulome, he is survived by his second of three wives, Madeleine Bassil, whom he married in 1982; another daughter, Gabrielle Anderson; a sister, Judy Anderson; and a brother, Jack Anderson.

As much as captivity was an ordeal, Mr. Anderson recalled, so was acclimating to what he called “the real world.”

“I had problems, and it took me a long time to begin to cope with them,” he said. “People ask me, ‘Did you get over them?’ I don’t know! Ask my ex-wife — ask my third ex-wife. I don’t know; I am who I am.”

“I was damaged a great deal more than I was aware of — than anyone was aware of,” he said.

“It takes as long to recover as the time you spent in prison,” he added.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

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