Charles Bowden, the prolific writer on America's border with Mexico and the drug violence that has plagued the region, died of unknown causes this past Saturday at age 69.
I got to know Bowden when he wrote the introduction to my book Kill the Messenger, about the late journalist Gary Webb, eight years ago. Back when Webb's career had just been destroyed by his controversial 1996 "Dark Alliance" expose on the CIA-crack-cocaine connection, most other journalists abandoned Webb. But not Bowden, who penned a masterful profile of Webb called "The Pariah" for Esquire magazine which documented how Webb's reputation was slandered despite the fact he was right.
About that word: journalist. Bowden hated it. As the LA Times pointed out yesterday, he once told the Arizona Republic that the word was just a euphemism for people too afraid of the truth to do their jobs. "I'm a reporter," Bowden said. "I go out and report. I don't keep a fucking journal."
As a reporter, Bowden knew where the bodies were buried, literally. His books Down by the River and Murder City are required reading for anyone who wants to understand the violence plaguing Mexico and America's role in fueling the mayhem. When the latter book, which focused specifically on how Juarez, Mexico became the homicide capital of the world, hit the bestseller's list, Bowden found the occasion scant cause for celebration. That's because he knew the reason he was selling books was becuase Juarez kept popping up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
"Well, they killed 22 last Wednesday (a new one-day personal best for the town surpassing a day last year when 20 were slaughtered) and there seems to be no reason for anyone to slow down," he told me in 2010. "Frankly, I think the book I am pimping . . . would have fallen dead from the press if the kindly Mexicans hadn't slaughtered three people connected to the US consulate in Juarez. 5,000 dead Mexicans don't count. Two US citizens mean box office."
As many who knew Bowden better than me have recently reminisced, the man liked his red wine. But according to his partner, librarian and researcher Molly Malloy, who co-edited Bowden's El Sicario, a spoken-word autobiography of a cartel hitman, Bowden had dialed back the drinking and had been in great shape in the past few years.
Over the years, Bowden took incredible risks by reporting on the drug trade, surviving death threats and other perils in the process. In an email to Bowden's friends and colleagues, Malloy said he had been busy writing in Patagonia, Arizona, when he complained of flu symptoms. A visit to the doctor was inconclusive. On Saturday, he passed away while taking a nap. In the battle to find beauty in the darkest of all nightmares, in the quest to speak truth to power, a mighty sword has fallen. He will be missed.