Hours before his death, David Carr moderated a panel discussion about the documentary “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden, the film’s director Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, a journalist.
NEW YORK — David Carr, a writer who wriggled away from the demon of drug addiction to become a name-brand media columnist at The New York Times and the star of “Page One,” a documentary about the newspaper, died Thursday in Manhattan. He was 58.
Mr. Carr collapsed in The Times newsroom, where he was found about 9 p.m. He was taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Hours before his death, he moderated a “Times Talks” panel discussion about the documentary “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden; the film’s director, Laura Poitras; and Glenn Greenwald, a journalist. Snowden appeared on video link from Russia. The film chronicles Snowden’s leak of National Security Agency documents. Mr. Carr, engaged as always, drew them out with pointed questions and wry observations to speak candidly about the film.
New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet heaped praise on Mr. Carr and said he was special.
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“He was the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom,” Baquet told Mr. Carr’s colleagues in an email. “He was our biggest champion, and his unending passion for journalism and for truth will be missed by his family at The Times, by his readers around the world, and by people who love journalism.”
Mr. Carr wrote about cultural subjects for The Times; he initiated the feature known as The Carpetbagger, a regular report on the news and nonsense from the red carpet during awards season. He championed offbeat movies such as “Juno,” with Ellen Page, and he interviewed stars both enduring and evanescent: Woody Harrelson, Neil Young, Michael Cera.
More recently, however, he was best-known for The Media Equation, a Monday column in The Times that analyzed news and developments in publishing, television, social media — for which he was an early evangelist — and other communications platforms. His plain-spoken style was sometimes blunt, and he was searingly honest about himself. The effect was both folksy and sophisticated, a voice from a shrewd and well-informed skeptic.
“We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it,” he wrote Monday in the wake of revelations that NBC anchor Brian Williams had lied about being in a helicopter under fire in Iraq in 2003.
“That’s why, when the forces of man, or Mother Nature, whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag bearer. We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”
His rise to a prominent position at The Times is all the more remarkable for the depths from which he rose. His “The Night of the Gun,” was a 2008 memoir about his addiction to crack cocaine and his recovery.
The book, published by Simon and Schuster, traced Mr. Carr’s rise from crack addict to single dad raising twin girls to sobered-up media columnist for The Times.
He said he wrote up a book proposal “on a dare to myself” in two days. After an agent sold the idea, he ended up interviewing about 60 people and working on the book for three years. He took the transcribed interviews, numerous documents and pictures to his family’s cabin in the Adirondacks, where he wrote the book.
Comedian and actor Tom Arnold, who started his stand-up career in Minneapolis, was pals with Mr. Carr on the city’s party circuit in the 1980s and is featured in the book. In a 2008 interview, Arnold called Mr. Carr’s story redemptive.
“He did some outrageous things, and he did some horrible things, and yet that’s not who he is. … But that’s what drugs will do to you,” Arnold said. “He survived, and people can survive.”
In the book, Mr. Carr doesn’t flinch from describing his arrests (including one for punching a taxi driver), his trips to rehab (five times) and his bout with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
In one passage, he describes a drug deal that happened when he was living with a woman who was both a drug dealer and the mother of his twin daughters. Shortly after the girls were born, he left them in a car while he went into a house to score some coke from a dealer named Kenny.
“Kenny’s lip-licking coke rap was more ornate, somehow more satisfying, than that of most of the dealers I worked with,” Mr. Carr wrote. “His worldview was all black helicopters and white noise — the whispering, unseen others who would one day come for us. It kept me on my toes.
“But tonight I had company. I certainly couldn’t bring the twins in. Even in the gang I ran with, coming through the doors of the dope house swinging two occupied baby buckets was not done. Sitting there in the gloom of the front seat, the car making settling noises against the chill, I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not.”
After stints helming the Twin Cities Reader, a Minneapolis-based alternative weekly, and the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly in D.C., Mr. Carr went on to gigs writing for Inside.com, an online media news website co-founded by Spy magazine co-founder Kurt Andersen, and New York and The Atlantic Monthly magazines before landing at The New York Times.
“I’ve always thought it (The Times) was a magnificent thing to read and look at,” Mr. Carr once said. “I just never pictured the likes of me working here.”
Last year, he began teaching a Boston University class that explored the creative business models to support digital journalism. It was among the first professorships dedicated to evaluating how media organizations can sustain themselves financially as readers and advertisers migrate to digital platforms, a crisis that has doomed some news organizations and threatens the viability of others.
He had written about the issue extensively.
“I think a lot of journalism education that is going on is broadly not preparing kids for the world that they are stepping into,” Mr. Carr told The Boston Globe.
The dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, Thomas Fiedler, told The Globe he was saddened by Mr. Carr’s death, which he called “a terrible blow.”
“What an extraordinary talent and a remarkable human being,” Fiedler said. “He was generous, kind, smart, funny, and we have felt so fortunate that he had decided to start what we hoped would be a long association with Boston University.”
Mr. Carr lived in Montclair, N.J. His survivors include his wife, Jill Rooney Carr, an event planner; their daughters Maddie, Erin and Meagan, and several siblings, Jim, John Jr., Joe, Missy and Lisa.
“I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve,” Mr. Carr wrote at the conclusion of “The Night of the Gun,” “but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.