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Terry Anderson, AP reporter held captive for years, dies at 76

Terry Anderson, who was the longest held American hostage in Lebanon, grins with his 6-year-old daughter Sulome, Dec. 4, 1991, as they leave the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Damascus, Syria, following Anderson's release.
Santiago Lyon
/
AP
Terry Anderson, who was the longest held American hostage in Lebanon, grins with his 6-year-old daughter Sulome, Dec. 4, 1991, as they leave the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Damascus, Syria, following Anderson's release.

LOS ANGELES — Terry Anderson, the globe-trotting Associated Press correspondent who became one of America's longest-held hostages after he was snatched from a street in war-torn Lebanon in 1985 and held for nearly seven years, has died at 76.

Anderson, who chronicled his abduction and torturous imprisonment by Islamic militants in his best-selling 1993 memoir Den of Lions, died on Sunday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

The cause of death was unknown, though his daughter said Anderson recently had heart surgery.

"He never liked to be called a hero, but that's what everyone persisted in calling him," said Sulome Anderson. "I saw him a week ago and my partner asked him if he had anything on his bucket list, anything that he wanted to do. He said, 'I've lived so much and I've done so much. I'm content.'"

After returning to the United States in 1991, Anderson led a peripatetic life, giving public speeches, teaching journalism at several prominent universities and, at various times, operating a blues bar, Cajun restaurant, horse ranch and gourmet restaurant.

He also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, won millions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets after a federal court concluded that country played a role in his capture, then lost most of it to bad investments. He filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Upon retiring from the University of Florida in 2015, Anderson settled on a small horse farm in a quiet, rural section of northern Virginia he had discovered while camping with friends. `

"I live in the country and it's reasonably good weather and quiet out here and a nice place, so I'm doing all right," he said with a chuckle during a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.

In 1985, he became one of several Westerners abducted by members of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah during a time of war that had plunged Lebanon into chaos.

After his release, he returned to a hero's welcome at AP's New York headquarters.

As the AP's chief Middle East correspondent, Anderson had been reporting for several years on the rising violence gripping Lebanon as the country fought a war with Israel, while Iran-funded militant groups tried to topple its government.

On March 16, 1985, a day off, he had taken a break to play tennis with former AP photographer Don Mell and was dropping Mell off at his home when gun-toting kidnappers dragged him from his car.

He was likely targeted, he said, because he was one of the few Westerners still in Lebanon and because his role as a journalist aroused suspicion among members of Hezbollah.

"Because in their terms, people who go around asking questions in awkward and dangerous places have to be spies," he told the Virginia newspaper The Review of Orange County in 2018.

What followed was nearly seven years of brutality during which he was beaten, chained to a wall, threatened with death, often had guns held to his head and often was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

Anderson was the longest held of several Western hostages Hezbollah abducted over the years, including Terry Waite, the former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had arrived to try to negotiate his release.

By his and other hostages' accounts, he was also their most hostile prisoner, constantly demanding better food and treatment, arguing religion and politics with his captors, and teaching other hostages sign language and where to hide messages so they could communicate privately.

He managed to retain a quick wit and biting sense of humor during his long ordeal. On his last day in Beirut he called the leader of his kidnappers into his room to tell him he'd just heard an erroneous radio report saying he'd been freed and was in Syria.

"I said, 'Mahmound, listen to this, I'm not here. I'm gone, babes. I'm on my way to Damascus.' And we both laughed," he told Giovanna DellÓrto, author of "AP Foreign Correspondents in Action: World War II to the Present."

He learned later his release was delayed when a third party who his kidnappers planned to turn him over to left for a tryst with the party's mistress and they had to find someone else.

Anderson's humor often hid the PTSD he acknowledged suffering for years afterward.

"The AP got a couple of British experts in hostage decompression, clinical psychiatrists, to counsel my wife and myself and they were very useful," he said in 2018. "But one of the problems I had was I did not recognize sufficiently the damage that had been done.

"So, when people ask me, you know, 'Are you over it?' Well, I don't know. No, not really. It's there. I don't think about it much these days, it's not central to my life. But it's there."

At the time of his abduction, Anderson was engaged to be married and his future wife was six months pregnant with their daughter, Sulome.

The couple married soon after his release but divorced a few years later, and although they remained on friendly terms Anderson and his daughter were estranged for years.

"I love my dad very much. My dad has always loved me. I just didn't know that because he wasn't able to show it to me," Sulome Anderson told the AP in 2017.

Father and daughter reconciled after the publication of her critically acclaimed 2017 book, "The Hostage's Daughter," in which she told of traveling to Lebanon to confront and eventually forgive one of her father's kidnappers.

"I think she did some extraordinary things, went on a very difficult personal journey, but also accomplished a pretty important piece of journalism doing it," Anderson said. "She's now a better journalist than I ever was."

Terry Alan Anderson was born Oct. 27, 1947. He spent his early childhood years in the small Lake Erie town of Vermilion, Ohio, where his father was a police officer.

After graduating from high school, he turned down a scholarship to the University of Michigan in favor of enlisting in the Marines, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant while seeing combat during the Vietnam War.

After returning home, he enrolled at Iowa State University where he graduated with a double major in journalism and political science and soon after went to work for the AP. He reported from Kentucky, Japan and South Africa before arriving in Lebanon in 1982, just as the country was descending into chaos.

"Actually, it was the most fascinating job I've ever had in my life," he told The Review. "It was intense. War's going on — it was very dangerous in Beirut. Vicious civil war, and I lasted about three years before I got kidnapped."

Anderson was married and divorced three times. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Gabrielle Anderson, from his first marriage.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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