William F. Buckley Jr.

William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the highly influential National Review, died this morning in his study in Stamford, Conn., his publication reported.

“After years of illness, he died while at work; if he had been given a choice on how to depart this world, I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas,” said National Review Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Buckley’s assistant Linda Bridges said he had been ill with emphysema and was found dead by his cook.

Widely regarded as a seminal political thinker, Buckley became known through his long-running television series “Firing Line” along with his books and writings in National Review.

He is credited with laying the groundwork for the modern American conservatism of 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan, who was a personal friend.

Buckley stepped down as top editor of National Review in 1990 and ended “Firing Line” in 1999 after 23 years, saying, “You’ve got to end sometime and I’d just as soon not die onstage.”

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said at the time, “For people of my generation, Bill Buckley was pretty much the first intelligent, witty, well-educated conservative one saw on television. He legitimized conservatism as an intellectual movement and therefore as a political movement.”

Opening his top-rated talk show today, Rush Limbaugh called Buckley one of the “most formative forces in my worldview.” Limbaugh recalled in his youth being “mesmerized” by Buckley’s columns, which “literally created my desire to learn.”

“He is indescribable, irreplaceable; there will not be another one like him,” Limbaugh said.

President Bush said today, “America has lost one of its finest writers and thinkers.”

“Bill Buckley was one of the great founders of the modern conservative movement,” he said. “He brought conservative thought into the political mainstream and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War and for the conservative movement that continues to this day. He will be remembered for his principled thought and beautiful writing — as well as his personal warmth, wit and generous spirit. His legacy lives on in the ideas he championed and in the magazine he founded — National Review.

“Laura and I send our prayers to Chris Buckley, the Buckley family, and all who loved this good man.”

House Republican Leader John Boehner said, “America has lost a giant.”

“William F. Buckley was, in large measure, the architect of the modern conservative movement,” Boehner said. “His intellect, wit, and dedication have inspired generations. In the 1950s, as many in America were moving toward a socialist future of ever-expanding government and ever-decreasing freedom, it took an act of courage and vision to stand athwart history and yell, ‘stop’ as Buckley wrote in the first issue of National Review. As long as America honors the ideals of our Founding Fathers – free speech, freedom of religion and limited, constitutional government – his legacy will be cherished.”

Buckley founded National Review in 1955, declaring he sought to “stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urge it.”

His first book, “God and Man at Yale,” published in 1951, took the university to task for straying from its original mission.

Buckley’s wife, Patricia Buckley, died last April at the age of 80 after a long illness. His son, Christopher Buckley, born in 1952, is the author of several novels, including “God Is My Broker” and “Thank You for Smoking.”

Along with his prolific writing, which included a novel series, Buckley had a wide range of skills and interests. He was an accomplished pianist, played the harpsichord and sailed around the world several times.

The sixth of 10 children, Buckley was born in New York City in 1925 to Irish-Catholic lawyer and oil baron William Frank Buckley Sr. He attended the first grade in Paris and by age 7 received his first formal training in English at a London day school. At age 13, just prior to World War II, he attended high school at St John’s Beaumont in England.

Buckley was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1944 and served as a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s honor guard when the president died. At Yale University, where he graduated in 1950, he was chairman of the Yale Daily News.

In 1950 he met his wife, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, while she was a student at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Buckley was recruited by the CIA in 1951 and served for less than a year. After training in Washington, he was sent to Mexico City where he served under Howard Hunt, later known for his role in Watergate.

Buckley worked as an editor for The American Mercury in 1951 and 1952 before founding National Review with Frank Meyer.

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