I Should Be Dead
My Life Surviving TV, Politics, and Addiction
In the summer of 2014 I was approached about writing a memoir with one of the most engaging and colorful people I’ve ever known. In the course of working on the book, I spent time with Bob in New York, had the chance to sit in on the live broadcast of an episode of The Five (the enormously popular FOX News show he was then cohosting), and over many hours talked through some of the deepest and darkest corridors of his past life.
Bob is a veteran of both politics and television. In Jimmy Carter’s White House he became the youngest-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, then managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign—one of nearly a hundred Beckel-run campaigns over the years. He went on to a career in television commentary, as a Crossfire host, a stand-in for Larry King, and so on. The behind-the-scenes stories of famous political events and people, as well as famous television shows and personalities, were fascinating to hear him tell.
But all of that, colorful as it is, takes a back seat to the real drama of the book, which is Bob’s terrifying struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction, his horrifying crash, and finally his path to recovery, redemption, and a second chance in life.
If you know anyone who is in recovery from addiction (and is there anyone who doesn’t know someone who fits that description?), put a copy of this one in their hands. They’ll thank you.
I Should Be Dead Reviews
“This is a hell of a book.” — Michael Smerconish, CNN
“Transparent and compulsively readable.” — Michael Gerson, Washington Post
“Extraordinary.” — Christian Broadcast Network News
“The kind of eye-opener that Dante Alighieri got when Virgil took him on a tour of the Inferno. … [I Should Be Dead] offers important insights into what’s gone wrong in our public policy mechanism.” — James Srodes, The Washington Times
“A great read … I Should Be Dead is not for the faint of heart, the moralizer, or the person who doesn’t want to know anything about the inner workings of the political world. Beckel shines a light on the dark side of politics and human nature, but reveals that there is still hope, and that no one is too far gone.” — The Daily Caller
“Beckel chronicles his alcoholism courageously and openly … and takes us on a wonderful ride through his career. We savor the highs and lows of political addiction, an addiction that almost every full time political operative has. Bob Beckel is, it seems, the first one to write frankly about it. Thankfully, he also writes about the solution—dependence on a higher power. No more hard-bitten, cynical, practical son-of-a-gun has ever gone through the twelve steps than Bob. And it is a thrill to watch grace descend on him and lift him up.” — Dick Morris
“In this remarkable book, Bob Beckel reveals for the first time some of his failings, challenges and temptations, not to glorify them, but to give the reader a sense of the magnitude of the grace of God, who rescued Bob in his darkest hour. Thrilling and brutally honest, Bob’s memoir will give you an entirely different sense of the man, beyond the silliness of the political world and media in which we both work and live.”
— Cal Thomas, syndicated and USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor
“An inspiring, truthful, humorous, and insightful account of a survivor’s quest to ascend in the world of politics, the campaign trail, Washington, and life. This is a must read for anyone who cares to understand the pain caused by early adversity and the influence it can have on the development of addiction. Bob Beckel delivers a truly captivating account of his life.”
― Peter Przekop, D.O., Ph.D., Director of Pain Management, Betty Ford Center; faculty member, Loma Linda University Medical School
“Bob Beckel’s candor about his challenges doesn’t surprise me. In our nearly thirty years of friendship, he has always been willing to tell it like it is, or at least as he sees it. We don’t always see things the same, but I greatly respect him for fighting the demons of addiction and being willing to tell the story of those fights so openly.”
― Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi
“I have known Bob Beckel for more than forty years. We have been steadfast friends through thick and thin. In a field where loyalty is a situational commodity, Bob’s loyalty is a granite mountain. In a sphere where true honesty is rare and too often fleeting, Bob is among the most honest men I have ever known. I Should be Dead will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and every page will be a revelation—and absolutely true. I couldn’t put it down; after knowing Bob four decades it was a stunning epiphany.”
― Patrick Caddell, Fox News contributor, former Democratic pollster and strategist
Excerpt from I Should Be Dead
January 20, 2001
How the hell did I get here?
I wake up with a blinding hangover, the kind that requires opening the eyelids one at a time, and very slowly. As my eyes come into focus the first thing I see is a grizzly bear.
I saw a grizzly once. Up close, near my summer place in Jackson, Wyoming. They’re even bigger than you think.
The initial surge of terror passes as my poisoned brain gradually comes to a realization: The slow-moving mass at the foot of my bed is not a grizzly, but a person in a white uniform.
She may well be the largest woman I have ever seen. She doesn’t say a word. Seems in no rush to leave, either. She settles herself down into a ridiculously tiny chair by the door of the room and begins to methodically turn the pages of an old issue of People magazine.
My eyes turn to the window by my bed.
The weather in Washington is awful. Cold and rainy with a brutal west wind sheeting off the Potomac. The great obelisk of the Washington Monument disappears into low clouds, all but the bottom 100 of her 550 feet of white marble swathed in bales of slate gray.
The Big Pencil, my kids used to call her.
I love that monument. Seeing it—whether from a plane, a train, a car, or on foot—has always told me I was home. I love this city. It’s always taken care of me. Here was where I escaped who I’d been. Here, I became somebody. Somebody other people liked and admired.
My eyes ache. My head aches. Everything aches.
My soul aches, if there is such a thing.
George W. Bush is an hour away from taking the oath of office as the forty-third president of the United States. This is not a happy thought, at least not for me. On the plus side, I do have my own VIP room overlooking part of the inaugural parade route. I’m sequestered under an assumed name in a guarded room at the George Washington University Hospital psychiatric ward.
Welcome to the nuthouse.
With the foresight that has made our nation’s capital so friendly to those in power, hospitals here have rooms set aside in their psych units for VIPs—rooms located at some distance from those for the ordinary nuts. The thinking, I suppose, is that no Washington big shot should be made to feel like a garden-variety fruitcake. It might harm their chances of recovery.
The nurse doesn’t say a word. I watch her for close to an hour. The periodic, deliberate movement of her right arm, back and forth, as she turns those damn magazine pages, is as relentless as the turn of the seasons. No other movement, no other sound. Finally I screw up the nerve to ask her why she doesn’t go take a walk or something.
“Cause I’m a suicide nurse,” she replies in a don’t-fuck-with-me monotone, her eyes never leaving the magazine pages. “All’s I need is for your fat ass to jump out that window while I wasn’t around and that’s the end of my job.” You can’t fake compassion like that.
Her next move sets me off: She suggests we watch the inaugural on TV. As she reaches for the remote I struggle upright to stop her. “You put that shit on TV and the only dead body here will be yours! That jerk and his thugs are the reason I’m in this place—so back off.”
It isn’t true, of course. George W. Bush isn’t the reason I’m here. I’m the reason I’m here. But I’m in no mood for honest introspection, not right now.
The nurse backs off.
Settling back against my mound of pillows, I try to reconstruct the events that landed me here. When you’re a drunk, recollection is a futile exercise. Short-term memory is elusive at best. Besides, anything a drunk needs to struggle to remember the day after is probably not worth remembering anyway. But I try.
The election, Florida, Bush v. Gore … my insane plan to persuade a few pro-Bush members of the Electoral College to change their minds … scandal, hate mail, vandalism, death threats against my family … Oh yeah, it’s all coming back to me now.
But last night. How exactly did I wind up in here?
The details start floating back from the haze.
When they wheeled me in here last night (discreetly meeting my ambulance at the rear entrance, VIP treatment all the way), I had a blood alcohol level of approximately a hundred thousand. The ambulance guys had found me that way when they scraped my unconscious body off the asphalt in the back parking lot of some lowlife dive in Maryland. And before that?
Think, Beckel. Focus.
I’m at the bar. I’m drunk, maybe drunker than I’ve ever been before. I’m propositioning the woman on the barstool next to me. Turns out she’s married. Turns out her husband is behind me. I swivel around to look.
The guy is sticking a loaded .45 in my face.
Then he pulls the trigger.
How am I not dead?