Michael Herr, the Vietnam War reporter who wrote Dispatches and helped pen the screenplays for Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now, died of a long illness near his home in upstate New York on Thursday, June 23. He was 76.
The writer’s daughter, Claudia Herr, confirmed his death to the Washington Post, but declined to provide further details.
Herr was just 27 when he was dispatched to Vietnam to cover the war for Esquire in 1967. At the time, he had little journalistic experience outside of working on Syracuse University’s literary magazine and contributing the occasional piece of film criticism or travel piece.
He would later change war reporting with his 1977 book Dispatches, which dived deep into the psyche of the Vietnam War and the men who fought it.
"I was there to watch," he wrote. "I went to cover the war and the war covered me; an old story, unless of course you've never heard it. I went there behind the crude but serious belief that you had to be able to look at anything. … I didn't know, it took the war to teach it, that you were as responsible for everything you saw as you were for everything you did."
The writing of the book caused Herr to spiral into a breakdown of “real despair for three or four years,” he once told the London Observer. “Deep paralysis. I split up with my wife for a year. I didn’t see anybody because I didn’t want anybody to see me.”
Following the publication and critical acclaim of Dispatches, Herr tried to remain out of the spotlight, only reemerging to help pen the screenplays for Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now in 1979 and Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, both addressing the idea of madness in wartime.
Herr is survived by his wife, Valerie; daughters Catherine and Claudia; and his siblings, Steven Herr and Judy Bleyer.
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