Former FBI agent, so-called mastermind behind the 1972 Watergate robbery, author, activist, and popular radio show host G. Gordon Liddy died March 30, aged 90. To say he was controversial would do the man a disservice. For more than five decades, Liddy built a reputation for fearlessness and bold thinking. In the end, he forever will be remembered as “the guy who did not talk.”
His role as a political operative for President Richard Nixon is now the stuff of legend. He spent more than four years in prison for his role in planning the Watergate burglary and the Pentagon Papers break-in, with more than 100 days of his term in solitary confinement. He would always remain proud of the fact that he did not break. In later years, he even said, “I’d do it again for my president.”
Liddy’s 20-year prison sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in April 1977. It was from here that Liddy began the slow process of remaking himself as a prolific writer, in-demand speaker, actor, professional talk show guest, and successful syndicated radio host for Radio America.
Nixon described Liddy as “the most dangerous man in America,” which lent his later ideas and controversial statements even greater weight. As part of Nixon’s White House “Plumber’s Unit,” he hatched plans and proposed escapades that included bombings, kidnappings, and, of course, the now-infamous burglaries that led to his conviction. Liddy’s cohorts in the Watergate scandal were deeply tied to the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961, and rumors that he himself was involved have persisted ever since.
In a 1994 interview for a documentary about Watergate, Liddy showed yet again that he was fearless in the face of recrimination. He described how he was “ready, if ordered, to go straight out and kill Jack Anderson, the Washington D.C. columnist.” Anderson won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative work on the secret policy meetings between the United States and Pakistan. In a phrase sure to be reminiscent of King Henry II talking about Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett (“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”), Liddy was ready to go after the reporter when Nixon said, “We need to get rid of this Anderson guy.”
Liddy remained unapologetic for who he was and what he did. And this was perhaps at the heart of his public rehabilitation. Refusing to cower or beg for forgiveness often shows strength of character –and he had that in spades.
Liddy’s life proved true the words he wrote in his autobiography, Will. “If an entire nation could be changed, lifted out of weakness to extraordinary strength, so could one person.” From the depths of prison to his incredible career heights, he demonstrated what could be achieved through willpower and conviction.
He is survived by his five children.
Read more from Mark Angelides.