Christopher Dickey, a foreign correspondent and editor whose authoritative dispatches on war, terrorism and espionage spanned continents and decades, died Thursday at his home in Paris. He was 68.
His wife, Carol, said the cause was a heart attack.
Colleagues and competitors of Dickey, the foreign editor at The Daily Beast, described him as one of the most knowledgeable journalists covering world affairs. MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, in an on-air tribute, said Dickey was “one of those great and curious storytellers who seemed to know just about everything and everyone.” Dickey appeared frequently as a commentator on MSNBC.
One of his protégés, Barbie Latza Nadeau, a correspondent at large for The Daily Beast, wrote in a reminiscence Thursday: “His stories were of a type of journalism that no longer seems to exist, in which reporters embedded with terrorists and secret forces for weeks at a time to produce a single article.”
His journalistic range was wide, as evidenced in his seven books. His first, “With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua” (1986), recalled his days covering conflicts in Central America. He wrote books about Western expatriates in the Middle East (“Expats: Travels in Arabia, from Tripoli to Teheran,” 1990), counterintelligence efforts by the New York Police Department (“Securing the City,” 2009) and the Civil War (“Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South,” 2015).
He also wrote novels: “Innocent Blood” (1997), a thriller that touches on conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf and Bosnia; and “The Sleeper” (2004), a sequel of sorts that centers on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a memoir, “Summer of Deliverance” (1998), Dickey offered a brutally honest picture of growing up as the son of James Dickey, the former poet laureate who wrote the best-selling novel “Deliverance.” He described his struggles in coping with his father’s alcoholism and abusiveness and confided that he had become a foreign correspondent partly to get far away from home. His mother, Maxine (Syerson) Dickey, died in 1976, when she was 50. James Dickey died in 1997.
“Dickey has done a remarkable job of picking his way through a minefield of emotions, knitting together a dangerous present and a painful past,” Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times wrote in a review.
Christopher Swift Dickey was born Aug. 31, 1951, in Nashville, Tennessee. As he grew up, his family moved from Atlanta to Cap D’Antibes, on the coast of southern France; to Positano, a cliffside village on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy; to Oregon; and finally to Virginia.
He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972 from the University of Virginia and a master’s in documentary filmmaking from Boston University in 1974.
Dickey began his international reporting career in 1980 at The Washington Post, covering Central America before being assigned to the Middle East. He covered Egypt and France for Newsweek, where he was Paris editor, and was foreign editor for The Daily Beast in Paris until his death. He occasionally contributed to The New York Times Book Review, doing so as recently as in March, when he reviewed “MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman,” by Ben Hubbard, a reporter for The Times.
In 1969, Dickey married Susan Tuckerman, and they had one son, James Bayard Tuckerman Dickey. They divorced in 1979. He married Carol Salvatore in 1980. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son; a sister, Bronwen Dickey; a brother, Kevin; and three grandchildren.
Asked what advice he would give to aspiring foreign correspondents, Dickey, a mentor to many young journalists, once told the Overseas Press Club of America: “Learn languages, but more importantly learn cultures. The two are inseparable.”
He reported from at least 42 countries, including El Salvador. John Avlon, a former editor of The Daily Beast, said on Twitter on Thursday that he once asked Dickey if he had read Joan Didion’s book “Salvador,” to which Dickey responded without pretense: “Yes. It’s dedicated to me.”