January 21, 2009
by Dennis Johnson
We are deeply saddened here at Melville House to announce that our author and friend, Malcolm MacPherson, died of a heart attack on the evening of Saturday, January 17, 2009. He was at his home in Warrenton, Virigina, at a gathering of friends and family joined together to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. He was 65 years old.
Malcolm was the author of 15 books, including his brilliant 2007 novel for Melville House, Hocus POTUS, a black satire in the spirit of Catch-22 that drew heavily from his background in the Marines during the Vietnam era, and his time as a war correspondent in Iraq for Time magazine.
He was also the author of several books of nonfiction recently published by Random House that became bestsellers, such as Roberts Ridge (2005), a book of reportage about one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan, and, most recently Time Bandit (2008), about fishermen working the dangerous waters of the Bering Sea.
Beyond his career as an author, Malcolm was also a widely-respected and world-traveling journalist. He worked for years as a foreign correspondent for both Time and Newsweek, covering not only the war in Iraq but the Yom Kippur war, sectarian strife in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, and the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. In his book State of Denial, Bob Woodward notes that Jay Garner, the first head of the coalition authority in Iraq, regaled President Bush with stories of his travels around Iraq with Malcolm MacPherson.
While reporting from Iraq, Malcolm lived in the American Embassy, Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace, in the then-newly formed “Green Zone.” He at first lived in an upstairs bedroom of the Palace, but was expelled to a converted shipping container behind the building after some critical reporting on Ambassador Paul Bremer. In addition to covering Garner and Bremer, Malcolm spent time reporting on the search for weapons of mass destruction.
The experience left him enraged at the conduct of the war.
“When I returned home from Iraq,” he wrote in his author questionnaire for Melville House, “I decided to let the anger out in fiction. I drafted Hocus POTUS in around a month … and I did not hold back.”
The result was a book of “black humor of the most exquisite variety,” said Alan Cheuse in a review on National Public Radio. “I thought I would answer farce with farce, fiction with fiction,” Malcolm told the Boston Globe.
Having been raised in the shadow of Disneyland – the construction of which he witnessed as a child, and later wrote about in his spoof In Cahoots – may have contributed to the sense of life as a great, good-hearted adventure that Malcolm imparted to those of us lucky enough to call him a friend. He seemed to find cause for cheerful wonderment in even the most dire situations. While writing his book about the Alaskan fishermen, he once called his editor at Melville House from the middle of the Bering Sea — well-known as some of the most treacherous waters in the world — to chat, casually mentioning that the fishing boat he was on had lost power and they would most likely not be rescued for another day or two. When the editor suggested he might want to conserve the batteries of his cell phone, Malcolm replied, “I know. I just wanted to see if I could get a connection. It’s the damndest thing, isn’t it?”
Malcolm MacPherson is survived by his wife, Charley, a daughter, Molly, and a son, Frasier. In lieu of flowers the family has asked for donations to The Footloose Fund (an education fund for Malcolm’s children named after his email address) at 291 Waterloo Street, Warrenton, VA 20186. Services will be held Friday, January 23 at the Little Sanctuary at St. Alban’s school in Washington DC.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives