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In Association with

A Hostage for Seven Years, He Has the Right to Sing the Blues


by Mel Helitzer & Morrie Helitzer

He had stopped to drop off his tennis partner, when suddenly a green Mercedes drifted to a halt in front of Terry Anderson’s car. As an AP foreign correspondent in Beirut, Lebanon, he was used to seeing bearded men jump into and out of cars. It was so common, the cars were called “hamster-mobiles.” But this one was no joke. Those three men were armed with pistols, and before Anderson could take evasive action, they had surrounded his car. There was no escape. One reached in and yanked off his eyeglasses. Then they pulled him out of his car and shoved him into their Mercedes.

“It’s political,” shouted one of the men. Anderson immediately knew what that meant. He was being kidnapped, just like William Buckley, a U.S. diplomat, and Rev. Benjamin Weir and Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, American missionaries. He had written about these hostages taken by the Iranian-financed Hezbollah. Now he was one of them.

Although the Associated Press and his family remindedthe world unceasingly that Anderson was a captive, he remained a hostage in the bowels of Beirut for nearly seven years.

Before his capture on March 16, 1985, Anderson had made his mark for taking on the toughest and riskiest assignments as chief Mddle East correspondent for AP. Then for 2,545 days he was living, when often he wanted to die, under the most precarious conditions imaginable
“Imagine it,” wrote Scott McLeod of Time Magazine. “You are chained to a radiator in a bare, dank room. You never see the sun. When your captors fear that a noise in the night is an impending rescue attempt, you are slammed up against the wall, the barrel of a gun pressed against your temple. Each day you have 15 minutes to shower, brush your teeth and wash your underwear in the bathroom sink. Your bed is a mat on the floor. One of your fellow hostages tries to escape, and the guards beat him senseless. Another tries to commit suicide. One day you reach the edge of your sanity. You begin furiously pounding your head against a wall. Before you pass out, all you remember is the blood.”

Anderson’s story, captured in his best selling autobiography, Den of Lions, demonstrated to the world the remarkable potential of the human spirit to triumph over adversity.

Ask Anderson what got him through, and he will name three elements: faith, determination and music. As a former Roman Catholic, who had dropped out of the church as a teenager, he was searching for his own God.

As a former Marine, he was a model of resourcefulness and daring. He was determined that he would stay alive. And it was music, part humor, part lyrics and poetry that kept his mind stimulated when his body often begged him to let it go.

When you’re starving you dream about food, and so often Anderson’s hope was that when he was released, he would manage a restaurant that played his favorite music, the blues. That’s how humor helped. His cellmate, the Rev. Terry Waite, and he would sit on their mats and plan the details of a New York restauant. At first they decided to call it “The Hostage.” All the customers would be blindfolded, would be served terrible food, and there would be a lot of screaming and yelling. “But it would never be a success,” joked Anderson, “In New York, who would notice?”

After he was released, Anderson answered a reporter’s question about his attitude toward his Islamic abductors, “I am a Christian. I am required to forgive. There is no other choice.”

He decided to retire from being a foreign correspondent but not from journalism. For a few years he taught at Columbia University’s School of Journalism; then, when he and his wife, Madeleine, had had enough of New York’s “hecktivity,” they moved to a farm in Ohio.

“I wanted to make life positive,” he said. “I didn’t want to work at a profession where you are cataloguing the world’s follies one after another. It’s no pleasure to watch people die.”

He taught at Ohio University, raised horses and cattle, won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the government of Iran and decided to open his dream restaurant and blues bar.

It took him two years to put all the pieces together. First, he found a partner, Joel Schechtman; then, he found a location in a college town that had 17 bars and restaurants, but not one that catered to adults and blues music.

The partners agreed that the restaurant must have music. “Maybe it’s because I needed to sing,” said Anderson. “But it had to be the blues. I have a lousy voice. Even though I took voice lessons, I was still the only one whom a parish priest once asked to avoid singing during a service. But anyone can sing the blues.”
“You can’t appreciate blues music unless you’ve suffered,” he claims. “It’s the only music and lyrics that reflect the lives of real people, not sentimental daze, about how many miles you’ve gone. Artist and vocalists need to be bashed. It’s also sexy music,” claims Anderson, “and my beautiful wife and I like to dance.”

His “Blue Gator” bar brings in national acts from New Orleans and California to his small college town. He works the tables like a Toots Shor, but in his black cattleman’s Stetson, cowboy boots and blue jeans, Anderson encourages his growing clientele to “be involved with the music.” His menu includes epicurean gourmet food and quality wine, which he personally selects. A year after he started he was making money. Not bad for a retirement hobby.

Now able to invest in almost any kind of business, Anderson still dreams of food, “Good food. Good food,” he repeats, “Almost any kind of food.” He owns two restaurants, a delicatessen and an international foods business, which produces pasta and imports specialties from scores of countries. He’ll never go hungry again.

But he is also a philanthropist, supporting a farm for troubled children in Colorado, a Vietnam children’s fund that built 25 new schools, and a committee, that he co-chairs with Walter Cronkite, to protect journalists from physical, financial and legal intimidation.

Anderson’s retirement life may be best summed by his own poetry:

“No man can ever start anew completely
He’s everything he’s ever done or said or failed to do.
Each bit is added on, altering the whole,
But covering, not replacing what has gone before.
A piece of unfired clay, he bears the marks and scars of all his years.
Not just clay, though — sculpture, too;
Object, artist audience, sometimes, though, larger hands—
Destiny, fate, karma, God — take firmly hold and,
Wielding fierce events, risk fracture to hack and carve away
Some awkward, ugly bits.
The final work cannot be seen until it’s fired and all fires cooled.
Paul knew: suffering and pain are the truest ways, and only ways for some of us,
To draw out that within which answers to the purpose of it all.”

Terry Anderson may be reached at:

Excerpted from It's Never Too Late to Plant a Tree by Mel Helitzer and Morrie Helitzer. Copyright © 2003 by Mel Helitzer and Morrie Helitzer. Excerpted by arrangement with University Sports Press. All rights reserved. $19.95. Available in local bookstores or click here.

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