William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative intellectual and former PBS show host whose unusual way of speaking and expansive vocabulary made him the butt of jokes and satirists, but whose mind earned him the envy of political scholars, died Wednesday at 82 at his home in Stamford, Conn.
Buckley, who founded very conservative-minded magazine The National Review, was the host of Firing Line on PBS starting in 1971, although the show’s genesis actually goes back to 1965 when it aired on what was then called WOR (now WWOR).
He switched to public broadcasting, at least in part because the then-fledgling public-television system was under attack from the Nixon administration for its alleged liberal point of view. He began syndicating the show in 1975 to public and commercial stations but returned to PBS in 1977. It lasted until December 1999, when he decided to discontinue the show.
Asked why he was quitting, he told Web site Salon.com at time, "At 34 years old, [Firing Line] is the longest-running television program on the air featuring the same host, and he thinks that the millennium should give other aspirants a chance."
Buckley like to spar with his guests, and the show was often more a debate than a conversation, per se. He had some favorite antagonists, liberals Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer among them.
But he was admired, even by those who disliked his politics, for his quick wit. In 1965, Buckley ran for mayor of the very liberal New York. Asked what he would do if he were elected, he responded quickly, “I’d demand a recount.” (He did get 13% of the vote.)
No cause of death was announced, although an account in The New York Times, quoting his son, Christopher, said his father suffered from emphysema and diabetes.
“William F. Buckley Jr. will be remembered for setting the standard for intelligent discourse in broadcasting through his work on Firing Line," PBS said in a statement. "Mr. Buckley’s eloquence, wit and wisdom made Firing Line required viewing, no matter your point of view. The program’s ability to attract loyal viewers from every political persuasion is a tribute to Mr. Buckley’s commitment to open and honest debating. Public television is deeply honored to have been Mr. Buckley’s home for almost 30 years. We will miss him greatly.”