William F. Buckley Jr., a scion of elegant reason and muscular wit who marshaled public awareness of conservative thought, died yesterday at his home in Connecticut. He was 82 and had suffered the effects of diabetes and emphysema for about a year.
A longtime syndicated columnist, author of 50 books and founder of the National Review, Mr. Buckley was knee-deep in intellectual pursuits to the end of his days. He was discovered dead at his desk by son Christopher in the early morning hours.
"Unquestionably, he was the principal founder of the modern American conservative movement, who had a major influence on the country, the party and the world. He was a wonderfully vivacious, effervescent friend, full of fun, a great sense of humor. He just changed the entire image of American conservatism," said William Rusher, publisher of National Review for 31 years and Mr. Buckley's closest business associate.
One of 10 children, Mr. Buckley was born the son of a millionaire in Manhattan, a lad who at age 8 saw fit to write to the king of England, asking that Britain repay its war debts. He grew up abroad, attended tony schools and emerged with a lively and lifelong Roman Catholic faith. He served two years in the U.S. Army, and went on to graduate from Yale University in 1950, only to slam the campus a year later in "God and Man at Yale," a book that criticized the school's fading Christian ideal.
David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, called the seminal volume "the first real assault on the liberal secularist domination of American Academe."
He recalled, "In those days there was, as Lionel Trilling and other liberals almost exuberantly observed, no respectable conservative tradition or movement in the United States. In a few short years, Bill Buckley changed that by bringing together anti-Communists like Whittaker Chambers, iconoclastic libertarians like Frank Meyer and traditionalist followers of Russell Kirk, creating an incubator in which they could argue, mix and bond — creating the movement that would in short order lead to the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980."
Mr. Buckley's stature on the national stage was larger than life. He was rigorous but still the model of civility during four decades as host of the public affairs television show "Firing Line" and the author of some 5,600 newspaper and magazine columns. The signature cadence of Mr. Buckley's velvety voice and the precision of his argument had much impact; many luminaries saw him as both the catalyst that gave conservative ideology a brusque entree into history.
"National Review was a lonely voice of conservatism in an overwhelmingly liberal establishment. Buckley began what led to Senator Barry Goldwater and his 'Conscience of a Conservative' that led to the seizing of power by conservatives from the moderate establishment within the Republican Party. From that emerged Ronald Reagan," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
"Bill stood up to defend freedom as a positive value of greater moral worth than either the state and the elite, and over time his work had a transformational impact on the quality of American politics," he added.
President Bush praised Mr. Buckley's role in the war of ideas with the communist Soviet Union.
"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," said Mr. Bush. "America has lost one of its finest writers and thinkers."
But the catalyst also served as a linchpin.
"Buckley changed the world by being himself: his twinkling eyes, his devilish grin, his sharp sense of humor, his unmatched intellect. A vocabulary that stumped the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary," said Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation.
Historian Lee Edwards asked: "How important was Bill Buckley to the conservative movement? Would there be the Earth without the sun?
Even historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who labeled Mr. Buckley "the scourge of American liberalism," came to appreciate his "wit, his passion for the harpsichord, his human decency, even ... his compulsion to epater the liberals."
Mr. Buckley once teased Mr. Schlesinger after the historian praised the rise of computers for helping him work more quickly. "Suddenly I was face to face with the flip side of Paradise," Mr. Buckley wrote. "That means, doesn't it, that Professor Schlesinger will write more than he would do otherwise?"
Mr. Buckley's intellectual prowess was tempered by a kind nature and a patriot's spirit, however.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said, "I was deeply saddened this morning when I learned of Bill Buckley's death. Ronnie valued Bill's counsel throughout his political life. His devotion to this country was evident in everything he wrote."
During a broadcast yesterday, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh cited the friendship and ready advice Mr. Buckley offered him over the years, calling him "a second father."
Intellect and untrammeled joie de vivre was a hallmark of the Buckley way of life, however. The heavy thinker also skied, sailed and exemplified the swift and dapper Ivy League mind-set. In addition to his analytical work, he also penned 11 cloak-and-dagger spy novels, inspired perhaps by a 9-month stint in the CIA when he was in his 20s. In his lifetime, he received 31 honorary academic degrees.
Mr. Buckley was married to his wife Patricia for 57 years; she died in April. He is survived by his son novelist Christopher Buckley, two grandchildren and his brother, James Buckley, a former U.S. senator from New York.
"He founded a magazine, wrote over 50 books, influenced the course of political history, had a son, had two grandchildren and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean three times," his son said. "He really didn't leave any stone unturned."
• Ralph Z. Hallow and Donald Lambro contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.
1925 Born in New York City
1944-46 Serves stateside in the U.S. Army infantry, reaching the rank of 2nd lieutenant
1950 Graduates from Yale with honors; marries Patricia Taylor
1951 Serves with the CIA in Mexico for nine months
1951 Publishes "God and Man at Yale"
1952 Serves as associate editor of American Mercury
1954 Co-authors a defense of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, criticizing his methods but supporting his campaign against communism
1955 Founds the National Review
1960 Helps found the conservative college group Young Americans for Freedom
1961 Helps establish the Conservative Party
1962 Becomes a syndicated columnist
1965 Runs for New York mayor as the Conservative Party candidate
1966-1999 Serves as host of the weekly political talk show "Firing Line"
1973 Serves as a delegate to the United Nations
1976 Publishes "Saving the Queen," the first of 11 spy novels
1980 Sees his friend Ronald Reagan elected president
1990 Steps down as editor in chief of the National Review
1991 Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush
1997 Publishes "Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith"
2004 Publishes "Miles Gone By," a memoir
2007 Loses his wife, Patricia, to illness
2008 The Washington Times runs its last Buckley column, "Dismal State of Taxation," on Feb. 2
2008 Dies at home in Stamford, Conn., at 82
Sources: Associated Press, Investor's Business Daily, Marquis Who's Who, Bloomberg News
Research by John Sopka, John Haydon, Clark Eberly and Ellen Hayes
REMEMBERING WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.
"Unquestionably, he was the principal founder of the modern American conservative movement, who had a major influence on the country, the party and the world. He was a wonderfully vivacious, effervescent friend, full of fun, a great sense of humor. He just changed the entire image of American conservatism." — William Rusher, publisher of National Review for 31 years and Mr. Buckley's closest business associate
"The things I think of today are courage and joy and gratitude. His courage in facing down what was then a monolithically hostile political culture. His joy in his family, friends, church and country. ... And my gratitude for the full measure of his friendship. He introduced me to my wife, saved my career twice, opened the good wine when I came to visit and even let me fiddle, on rare occasions, with his prose. He was God's gift." — Neal B. Freeman, a longtime Buckley associate
"When he wrote 'God and Man at Yale,' there was a huge outcry from the academic community. They were absolutely shredding it, but that only gave Buckley [a] chance to come back and respond with something that was sharper than what they had attacked him with. He led the movement for over 50 years. He leaves a huge vacuum, but also a huge legacy with all of his writings." — Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator
"Every conservative, and every person who loves freedom, should thank God for William Buckley ... and thank God for not giving the Left a William Buckley." — Richard Viguerie, ConservativeHQ.com publisher
"We've lost a very important person and leader in that movement, but he put a permanent impression on conservatism, and that will persist after his death. ... He made conservatism a lively and entertaining belief. His wit and eloquence made it a joy to be around the movement. ... Personally, he was much like he is in public. He was always witty and friendly and entertaining." " Robert H. Bork, former Supreme Court nominee and current scholar at the Hudson Institute
"He made conservatism a lively and entertaining belief. ... Mr. Buckley"s contributions to the conservative movement in America are countless, and we are comforted to know his legacy is carried on through the publication he founded, National Review." — Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee
"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." — House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican
"William F. Buckley, Jr. was an intellectual giant and a champion of the conservative movement. For more than half a century, Buckley created a deep well of substantive ideas that conservatives could draw upon to lead this country forward. There are few individuals who have had as great an impact on America, as William F. Buckley, Jr." - Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican
"William F. Buckley was more than a journalist or commentator. He was the indisputable leader of the conservative movement that laid the groundwork for the Reagan Revolution. Every Republican owes him a debt of gratitude for his tireless efforts on behalf of our party and nation." - Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican
"He personally tutored hundreds of young minds in the principles and arguments of conservatism. He held the ground, as one admirer put it, until the reinforcements came, and then led them all as a happy warrior in the greatest cultural and ideological battles of our day. Bill Buckley inspired us with the passion and conviction of his life. And when we learned that he had died in his study, he inspired us by his death." - Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican