A Hostage for Seven Years,
He Has the Right to Sing the Blues
TERRY ANDERSON TODAY
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
“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
“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
Anderson’s retirement life may be best summed by his own
“No man can ever start anew completely
He’s everything he’s ever done or said or failed to
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
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
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: email@example.com
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