Terry Anderson, reporter held hostage for six years, dies at 76

Terry Anderson, the American journalist who was held as a Western hostage in Lebanon for the longest time when he was finally released by Islamist militants in 1991 after more than six years of captivity, died Saturday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, in the Hudson Valley . He was 76.

The cause appeared to be complications from recent heart surgery, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

Mr. Anderson, the Beirut bureau chief of The Associated Press, had just dropped off his tennis partner, an AP photographer, at his home after an early morning tennis match on March 16, 1985, when men armed with pistols ripped open the door of his car and pushed 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, who were Shiite Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon’s Islamic Jihad organization, beat him, blindfolded him and kept him chained for 2,454 days in about 20 hideouts in Beirut, southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

The Iran-backed militants said they were retaliating against Israel’s use of American weapons in previous attacks on Muslim and Druze targets in Lebanon. They had also tried to pressure the Reagan administration to secretly facilitate illegal arms sales to Iran – an embarrassing effort that became known as the Iran-Contra affair because the administration planned to use the proceeds from 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 fiancée, who was pregnant at the time of his abduction, and met his six-year-old daughter for the first time.

Although he was not tortured during his captivity, he was beaten and chained, he said. He spent about a year off and on in solitary confinement, he said.

“There is nothing to hold on to, no way to steady my spirit,” he said after the ordeal. “I try to pray every day, sometimes for hours. But there is nothing there, just emptiness. I’m talking to myself, not God.”

However, he found some comfort in the Bible, adding: “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 October 27, 1947 in Lorain, Ohio, where his father Glen was the village policeman. When he was 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 into the University of Michigan and offered a scholarship, but decided to join the Marines instead. He served five years in Japan, Okinawa and Vietnam as a combat journalist and a final year in Iowa as a recruiter.

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

He worked for The AP 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 for the Ohio State Senate as a Democrat in 2004. He sued Iran in federal court for $100 million in damages and ultimately collected about $26 million from that country’s assets that had been frozen in the United States. His stroke of luck lasted about seven years; In 2009 he filed for bankruptcy.

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

He has also taught at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, the University of Kentucky, and Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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 adjusting to what he called “the real world.”

“I had problems and it took me a long time to come to terms with them,” he said. “People ask me, ‘Have you overcome it?’ I don’t know! Ask my ex-wife – ask my third ex-wife. I don’t know; I am who I am.”

“Much more harm was done to me than I realized — than anyone realized,” he said.

“Recovery takes as long as time spent in prison,” he added.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed to reporting.

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