Democracy Dies in Darkness

Obituaries

Art Bell, mysterious narrator of the American nightscape, is dead at 72

By Marc Fisher

April 14, 2018 at 6:12 PM

Art Bell in 1998. (Lee Zaichick/For The Washington Post)

In the small of the night, when the mind is open and the defenses are eased, mysteries blossom and conspiracies run wild. In the darkest of hours, Art Bell was a light left on for the lonely, the insomniacs, the Americans searching for answers in a society they believed was spinning out of control.

For more than two decades, Mr. Bell, who was 72 when he died April 13 at his home in Pahrump, Nev., stayed up all night talking to those people on the radio, patiently encouraging them to tell their stories about alien abductions, crop circles, anthrax scares and, as he put it, all things “seen at the edge of vision.” The Nye County, Nev., sheriff’s office said an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

At Mr. Bell’s peak in the 1990s, his show, “Coast to Coast AM,” was on more than 400 radio stations. He took calls all night long, alone in the studio he built on his isolated homestead in Pahrump, in the Nevada desert. He punched up the callers himself, unscreened, keeping one line just for those who wanted to talk about what really happened at Area 51, the U.S. government reserve that for decades has been a locus of UFO sightings and purported encounters with alien beings.

Long before fake news became a political topic, Mr. Bell made a good living encouraging Americans to accept the most fantastic and unlikely tales, to believe that we are not alone, to accept that in a world where the pace of life seemed to quicken with every passing year, there were forces from beyond that were trying to tell us something.

Related: [The outer limits: A lone voice in the desert lures 10 million listeners]

Art Bell in 1998. (Lee Zaichick/For The Washington Post)

In about 40 cities around the country, and in London and Tokyo, Art Bell Chat Clubs met regularly to hear talks by ufologists and by people who described their near-death and past-life experiences. He also had more prominent guests on the show — singers, comics, actors, scientists.

Mr. Bell started his show in 1984 doing a standard-issue political talk program, but he quickly tired of the predictable, emotionally distanced debates over the issues of the day. For Mr. Bell, the questions of the night were infinitely more powerful.

In 1996, Mr. Bell suggested that the Hale-Bopp comet, then the subject of great popular fascination, was being trailed by a UFO — a theory cited as a possible reason that members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide the next year.

“There is a difference in what people are willing to consider, daytime versus nighttime,” Mr. Bell told The Washington Post in 1998. “It’s dark and you don’t know what’s out there. And the way things are now, there may be something.”

Mr. Bell’s voice was unusually formal, with a classic announcer’s cadence, patient and crystalline, by no means a sleepy sound. What he offered listeners was companionship and a therapeutic acceptance.

The novelist Don DeLillo once wrote that “If you maintain a force in the world that comes into people’s sleep, you are exercising a meaningful power.”

Mr. Bell, who drew an audience of about 10 million listeners a week, saw himself not as an authority, but as a fellow explorer. He wore his gullibility proudly. He believed in possibilities, and he loved the idea that his openness to paranormal events had helped build the nation’s appetite for “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files” and other expressions of the edges of reality.

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Margaret M. Heckler, an eight-term Republican congresswoman from Massachusetts who later became secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and a U.S. ambassador to Ireland, died Aug. 6 at a hospital in Arlington, Va. She was 87. Read the obituary
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Washington Post reporter and columnist Warren Brown, who brought race and class-conscious insights to his coverage of the automotive industry and who wrote about his health struggles and the kidney he received from a colleague, died July 26 at a hospital in Manassas, Va. He was 70. Read the obituary
Mary Ellis delivered spitfires and bombers to the front line during the war as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying more than 1,000 planes during the conflict before moving to the Isle of Wight to manage Sandown airport from 1950 to 1970. She died on July 25 at 101. Read the obituary
Sergio Marchionne, who engineered one of the most brazen automotive deals in history when he persuaded the U.S. government to sell bankrupt automaker Chrysler to Italy’s Fiat, and turned the combined Fiat Chrysler into one of the most profitable firms in the industry, died July 25 at a hospital in Zurich. He was 66. Read the obituary
Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga uncovered evidence suggesting that the United States’ World War II internment policy had racist motives and was not a result of “military necessity,” as Pentagon officials claimed. She was 93 when she died July 18 at a hospital in Torrance, Calif. Read the obituary
Jonathan Gold, a food critic for the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly and other publications, and the first restaurant critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, died July 21. He had been diagnosed earlier in the month with pancreatic cancer. He was 57. Read the appreciation
Frank Sinatra’s first wife, Nancy Barbato Sinatra, shown in 1949 with Frank and their children, from left, Nancy, Tina and Frank, died on July 13 at 101. Read the obituary
Adrian Cronauer, who was a disc jockey at the Saigon-based Dawn Buster radio show and whose experiences are chronicled in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam,” died on July 18 at a nursing home near his home in Troutville, Va. He was 79. Read the obituary
Henry Morgenthau III, TV producer and documentarian whose father was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s treasury secretary, died July 11 in Washington. He was 101. Read the obituary
Tab Hunter, the blond actor and singer who was the heartthrob of millions of teenage girls in the 1950s, and received new attention decades later when he revealed that he was gay, died July 8. He was 86. Read the obituary
French writer, journalist and movie producer Claude Lanzmann died on July 5 at age 92. Read the obituary
Joe Jackson, patriarch of the Jackson family of entertainers, died in the early morning of June 27. He was 89 years old. Read the obituary
Anthony Bourdain, the chef who became a world-traveling storyteller as the host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” died on June 8 in France. He was 61. Read the obituary.
Kate Spade, the fashion designer best known for her iconic line of handbags, was found dead June 5 at her home in Manhattan. She was 55. Read the obituary.
Philip Roth, the acclaimed author seen as “the voice of his generation,” died May 22 at age 85. Read the obituary.
Tom Wolfe, author of books such as “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” died May 14 at 88. Read the obituary.
Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the 1978 blockbuster “Superman,” died May 13 at 69. Read the obituary .
Two-term California governor George Deukmejian, whose anti-spending credo earned him the nickname “The Iron Duke,” died May 8 of natural causes, a former chief of staff said. He was 89. Read the obituary
Ninalee Allen Craig, the subject of Ruth Orkin’s photo “American Girl in Italy, Florence, 1951” died May 1. Read the obituary
Jab’o Starks, a drummer whose crisp, disciplined grooves propelled some of James Brown’s biggest hits and helped define the offbeat rhythmic style of early funk and hip-hop, died May 1 at his home in Mobile, Ala. He was 79. Read the obituary
Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, a Korean-born martial artist who settled in Washington and helped popularize taekwondo in the United States, preaching a philosophy of “truth, beauty and love” while teaching members of Congress how to kick and punch, died April 30 at an assisted-living community in Arlington, Va. He was 86. Read the obituary
Bob Dorough, a pianist and singer who performed with jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis but was perhaps best known for his whimsical compositions for the animated video series “Schoolhouse Rock!,” died April 23 at his home in Mount Bethel, Pa. He was 94. Read the obituary
Verne Troyer, an actor who was known best for his role as Mini-Me, a pint-size version of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil in two “Austin Powers” movies, died April 21. He was 49. Mr. Troyer, who was 2 foot 8, appeared in dozens of movies and TV series, including “Jack of All Trades” and “Boston Public.” His most famous role, by far, was as Mini-Me, first in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999) and in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002). Read the obituary
Bruno Sammartino, foreground, fled to the mountains of Italy with his family during World War II and came to the United States at 14, weighing just 80 pounds. Within 10 years, he built himself into a 275-pound mound of muscle, with remarkable strength and a relentless, blue-collar style that made him one of the most popular professional wrestlers of the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Sammartino, who was once among the highest-paid athletes in the United States, died April 18 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 82. Read the obituary
Barbara Bush, who was the wife of one president and the mother of another and whose embrace of her image as America’s warmhearted grandmother belied her influence and mettle, died April 17. She was 92. As the matriarch of one of America’s political dynasties, Mrs. Bush spent a half century in the public eye. She was portrayed as the consummate wife and homemaker as her husband rose from Texas oilman to commander in chief. They had six children, the eldest of whom, George W. Bush, became president. Their eldest daughter, Robin, died at age 3 of leukemia, a tragedy that had a profound impact on the family. Read the obituary
Carl Kasell, a radio personality who brought gravitas and goofiness to the airwaves, first as a staid newsreader on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and later as the comic foil and scorekeeper on the delightfully silly news quiz show “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!,” died April 17 at an assisted-living center in Potomac, Md. He was 84. Read the obituary
Milos Forman, a Czech-born filmmaker who left his homeland in the 1960s and became a two-time Oscar winner as the director of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus,” died April 14 at a hospital in Danbury, Conn. He was 86. Read the obituary
Peter Gruenberg, a German scientist who won the Nobel Prize in physics for a discovery that made possible great advances in computer technology by enabling the rapid reading of vast quantities of stored data, died April 7. He was 78. Read the obituary
Donald McKayle, a Tony-nominated choreographer who created classic works of modern dance and was the first black man to direct and choreograph Broadway musicals, died April 6 at a hospital in Orange, Calif. He was 87. Read the obituary
Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animator Studio Ghibli that stuck to a hand-drawn “manga” look in the face of digital filmmaking, died on April 5 of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital. He was 82. Read the obituary
Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, right, who served on Capitol Hill for more than 35 years in both houses of Congress and devoted himself to looking after the interests of his home islands, died April 6 in Hono­lulu. He was 93. Read the obituary
Cecil Taylor, an avant-garde jazz pianist whose long, sweat-drenched performances aspired to a state of ecstasy, died April 5 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 89. Read the obituary
Susan Anspach, shown alongside Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces,” was an actress who had several acclaimed film roles in the 1970s and 1980s. She died April 2 at her home in Los Angeles at age 75. Read the obituary
Ray Wilkins, left, an elegant midfielder who captained England’s national soccer team and played for illustrious teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea and AC Milan in a 24-year career, died on April 4 at 61. Nicknamed “Butch,” Wilkins played 84 times for England — captaining the team for 10 games. He also played for Rangers and Queens Park Rangers, among others, in a club career that ended in 1997.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela addresses a meeting in Kagiso township in April 1986. The ex-wife of South African anti-apartheid fighter and former president Nelson Mandela died April 2 in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness at the age of 81, her spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement. Read the obituary.
Steven Bochco, a television writer and producer whose gritty police procedurals and courtroom dramas, notably “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue,” injected ambitious storytelling, quirky ensemble casts and occasional nudity into what was then a critically derided form of mass entertainment, died April 1 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74. Read the obituary
Former Dutch politician Johan van Hulst saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis and was a Righteous Among the Nations. He died March 22 at the age of 107. Read the obituary.
H. Wayne Huizenga, a college dropout who built a business empire that included Blockbuster Entertainment, AutoNation and three professional sports franchises, died March 22 at his South Florida home. He was 80. Read the obituary
Charles Lazarus, who transformed his father’s Washington bicycle business into Toys R Us, a retail giant that rivaled Santa Claus’s workshop before it declared bankruptcy in September, died March 22. He was 94. Read the obituary
Betty Ann Bowser, a broadcast journalist who for decades was a regular presence on “PBS NewsHour,” died March 16 at a clinic near her home in Ajijic, Mexico. She was 73. Read the obituary
Les Payne, a longtime Newsday journalist who shared a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on global heroin trafficking and who helped expose the Tawana Brawley hoax, died March 19 at home in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. He was 76. Read the obituary.
Illustrator Robert Grossman, who created a surreal movie poster for “Airplane!” and caricatured presidents from Richard M. Nixon to Donald Trump, died March 15 at his home in Manhattan. He was 78. Read the obituary
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a folksy New York liberal who championed women’s rights and American manufacturing for more than three decades as a Democratic congresswoman, died March 16 at a hospital in Washington. She was 88 and the oldest sitting member of Congress. Read the obituary
Augie Garrido, a college baseball coach whose Zenlike coaching style, mixed with old-school profanity, led to five national championships and the most victories in his sport of any coach in history, died March 15 in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 79. Read the obituary
Stephen W. Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who overcame a devastating neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and become a globally celebrated symbol of the power of the human mind, died March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. Unable to move nearly any of his muscles, speechless but for a computer-synthesized voice, Dr. Hawking had suffered since the age of 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Read the obituary
Eugene Hughes, a former boxer and boxing trainer, drug abuse counselor, and founder in 1975 of a youth program of education and personal discipline through boxing, died March 12 at an assisted-living apartment in Washington. He was 80. Read the obituary
John Sulston, a Nobel Prize-winning British scientist who helped decode the human genome, died on March 6. He was 75. Read the obituary
Russ Solomon, whose company Tower Records helped invent the music megastore but was felled by the rise of digital downloads and growing competition from discount chains, died March 4 at his home in Sacramento. He was 92. Read the obituary
Propelled by an ever-lengthening stride and extraordinary willpower, the lanky British medical student Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. He pitched over the finish line at the University of Oxford’s Iffley Road track on a dank, blustery day — May 6, 1954 — and electrified England during its post-World War II doldrums. Dr. Bannister, who died March 3 at age 88, became a national hero at a time when mavericks around the world were overcoming the long-perceived physical boundaries of man and nature. Read the obituary
David Ogden Stiers, who played Major Charles Emerson Winchester III in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” died on March 3. He was 75. Read the obituary
Cynthia Heimel, a humor columnist whose biting, ribald commentary on sex, romance and late-century womanhood was collected in books, died Feb. 25 at an assisted-living community in Los Angeles. She was 70. Read the obituary
Lewis Gilbert, a British filmmaker who directed World War II epics, three popular entries in the James Bond franchise and understated dramas centered on working-class characters, including the Oscar-nominated Michael Caine hit “Alfie,” died Feb. 23 in Monaco. He was 97. Read the obituary
Nanette Fabray, a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress and singer who later won three Emmy Awards in the 1950s as Sid Caesar’s comic foil on television, died Feb. 22 at her home in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. She was 97. Read the obituary
Scottish milliner John Boyd’s hats were worn by several members of the royal family, including Princess Anne and Diana, the princess of Wales. Boyd died Feb. 20 at 92. Read the obituary
The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist whose eloquent oratory and passion for Jesus attracted a worldwide following and made him one of the most influential and best-known religious figures of his time, died on Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C. He was 99. See more photos | Read the obituary
Peggy Cooper Cafritz, grande dame of the Washington arts and education scene, died at 70 on Feb. 18. Read the obituary.
African American history author and former Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett Jr. died in Chicago at age 89 on Feb. 15. Read the obituary.
Ruud Lubbers, the longest-serving prime minister ever of the Netherlands and a former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, died on Feb. 14. He was 78. Read the obituary.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran Zimbabwean opposition leader who fought Robert Mugabe’s regime for many years, died on Feb. 14, after battling cancer. Read the obituary.
John “Tito” Francona, former Cleveland Indians outfielder and father of current manager Terry Francona, died on Feb. 13. He was 84. Read the obituary.
Marty Allen, fuzzy-haired member of popular 1960s comedy duo Allen & Rossi, died at 95 on Feb. 12 in Las Vegas. Read the obituary.
Vic Damone, a popular 1950s crooner and nightclub star, died Feb. 11 at 89. Read the obituary.
Tom Rapp, frontman for Pearls Before Swine, one of the most-enduring and eccentric groups of rock music’s late-’60s underground scene, died Feb. 11. He was 70. Read the obituary.
John Gavin, a Hollywood actor who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, died Feb. 9. He was 86. Read the obituary.
Jos Roozen, a horticulturist who dispensed gardening advice over the radio and co-owner of Roozen Nursery and Garden Center in Fort Washington, Md., died Feb. 8 at age 70. Read the obituary.
Joe Knollenberg, who represented suburban Detroit's Oakland County for 16 years in Congress, died Feb. 6. He was 84. Read the obituary.
John Mahoney, the Tony-winning actor who played a crotchety blue-collar father on TV’s “Frasier,” died Feb. 4 at 77. Read the obituary.
Wesla Whitfield, an intimate song stylist and interpreter of classic tunes, died Feb. 9 at her home in St. Helena, Calif. She was 70. Read the obituary.
Dennis Edwards, a Grammy-winning former member of the Temptations, died Feb. 1 at 74. Read the obituary.
Oscar Gamble, an outfielder who hit 200 home runs over 17 major league seasons and was famous during his playing days for an Afro that spilled out from under his cap, died Jan. 31 at a hospital in Birmingham, Ala. He was 68. Read the obituary.
Jacquie Jones, a prizewinning public television film director who for nine years was executive director of the nonprofit National Black Programming Consortium, died Jan. 28 at a hospital in Washington. She was 52. Read the obituary.
Ingvar Kamprad, 91, who was the founder of the worldwide furniture chain Ikea, died on Jan. 28. Read the obituary.
Claribel Alegría, a Central American poet who wrote of personal and political anguish, was 93 when she died Jan. 25 at her home in Managua. Read the obituary.
Mort Walker, whose “Beetle Bailey” comic strip followed the exploits of a lazy G.I. and his inept cohorts at the dysfunctional Camp Swampy, and whose dedication to his art form led him to found the first museum devoted to the history of cartooning, died Jan. 27 at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 94. Read the obituary.
Mark E. Smith of the band “The Fall” died on Jan. 24. Read the obituary.
The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief of staff and was a major figure in the civil rights movement. He died on Jan. 23. Read the obituary
Renowned Chilean writer Nicanor Parra, who invented the “antipoem” and won the Cervantes Prize — Spanish-language literature’s highest honor — in 2011, died at 103 on Jan. 23. Read the obituary
Author Ursula K. Le Guin, the award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer who explored feminist themes and was best known for her Earthsea books, died Jan. 22, in Portland, Ore. She was 88. Read the obituary.
Billy Hancock, shown performing in 2003, died on Jan. 22. The rockabilly singer, guitarist and bassist was known for his outrageous stage presence. Read the obituary
Naomi Parker-Fraley was said to be the inspiration behind Rosie the Riveter. She died on Jan. 20. Read the obituary
Wendell Castle, who was considered the father of art furniture and is shown here in an undated photograph, died Jan. 20 at his home in Scottsville, N.Y. He was 85. Read the obituary.
Author Peter Mayle, the British author known for his books set in Provence, France, died in a hospital near his home in the south of France. He was 78. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf announced his death on Jan. 18. Read the obituary
Actor Rock Hudson and actress Dorothy Malone are seen in 1957 on the set of “The Tarnished Angels.” Malone, who won hearts of 1960s television viewers as the long-suffering mother in the nighttime soap opera “Peyton Place,” died Jan. 19 at 92. Read the obituary.
Julius Lester, who recounted African American history as well as his own personal story in noted works of literature, died Jan. 18 at 78. Read the obituary
CIA director Stansfield Turner is seen in his office at agency headquarters in Langley, Va., in 1977. He died on Jan. 18 at 94. Read the obituary
Jo Jo White of the Boston Celtics drives past the Chicago Bulls’ Wilbur Holland in Chicago in 1977. White, a Hall of Famer, two-time NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist, died Jan. 16 at 71. Read the obituary.
Marlene VerPlanck performs at the Watermill Jazz Club in Surrey, England, in 1999. The vocalist, who recorded thousands of jingles for commercials before becoming known as a jazz singer and acclaimed interpreter of American popular song, died Jan. 14 at 84. Read the obituary.
Edwin Hawkins, 74, a Grammy-winning gospel star best known for the hit “Oh, Happy Day,” died Jan. 15. Read the obituary.
Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Irish band the Cranberries, died Jan. 15 at age 46 in London. Read the obituary.
Doug Harvey, 87, one of only 10 umpires in the Hall of Fame, was held in such regard by major league players and managers that they called him “God.” Harvey died Jan. 13. Read the obituary.
Keith Jackson, the folksy voice of college football who for decades wove backwoods wit throughout his Saturday broadcasts on ABC, died Jan. 12. He was 89. His signature phrase was “Whoa, Nellie!” Read the obituary.
Denise LaSalle, a Hall of Fame soul and blues singer and songwriter whose earthy lyrics and sexually explicit stage patter made her an enduring presence in predominantly black clubs and theaters, died Jan. 8 at 83. Read the obituary.
Thomas Bopp, right, here with other comet hunters, from left, David Levy, Don Yeomans and Alan Hale, received a flurry of international attention and a form of scientific immortality from the Hale-Bopp comet that bears his name. He died Jan. 5 at age 68. Read the obituary.
Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, being promoted to brigadier general by Gen. William Westmoreland in 1970. Hays, the first female general in American military history, died Jan. 7 at age 97. Read the obituary.
Ray Thomas, a British flutist and singer-songwriter who co-founded the Moody Blues, died Jan. 4. He was 76 and was scheduled to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his band mates in April. Read the obituary.
Jerry Van Dyke, left, the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke, right, struggled for decades to achieve his own stardom before clicking as the dimwitted sidekick in television’s “Coach.” He died Jan. 5 at age 86. Read the obituary.
John Young, NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, who flew in space six times, walked on the moon, commanded the first space shuttle and became the conscience of the astronaut corps, advocating for safety measures in the wake of the 1986 Challenger disaster, died Jan. 5 at age 87. Read the obituary.
Photo Gallery: Remembering those who have died in 2018.

He wrote a book, “The Quickening,” spelling out his theory that every aspect of life was “accelerating and changing” so dramatically that the world was hurtling toward doom.

Of course, Mr. Bell had his own experiences that matched those of his callers. On the way home to Pahrump from Las Vegas one summer night, he and his wife, Ramona, were about a mile from home when she blurted, “What the hell is that?”

The couple gazed up. Hovering over the road, they saw an enormous triangular craft, each side about 150 feet long, with two bright lights at each point of the triangle. After a while, the craft floated directly over the Bells. “It was silent,” Mr. Bell recounted. “Dead silent. It did not appear to have an engine.” After a few moments, the craft floated across the valley and out of sight.

On the radio, when he told such stories, he would ask listeners to “try to send mental connective thoughts to ask these beings to show themselves.”

“It really doesn’t matter that much to me if anyone believes me,” Mr. Bell said years later. “Thousands of people seeing the same thing cannot all be wrong.”

And if they were wrong, at least they were wrong together, he said. Whether his show was taken as entertainment or revelation, he believed it was healthier than the other blather on the radio: “Morning shows that compete to find the worst language you can manage to get on the air, the most controversial topics,” he said, dismissively. “Guns! Abortion! I talk about weird stuff. What I do only works at night, only on the radio.”

His politics were all over the map — a self-described libertarian, he opposed abortion, supported same-sex marriage and was skeptical of the science behind global warming. He blamed Richard Nixon for spawning a nation of cynics, supported Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ross Perot in 1992, came to consider Bill Clinton a great president and said he voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Mr. Bell had no stomach for haters. He had a white supremacist on as a guest, made him comfortable enough for him to spout racist views, and then Mr. Bell informed the guest that “I am married to a brown-skinned Asian woman.”

Born June 17, 1945, in Jacksonville, N.C., Arthur Bell III grew up with a seven-transistor AM radio tucked under his pillow at night, and when he was supposed to be sleeping, he listened instead to the pioneers of talk radio as they batted around alternative ideas about who really killed John F. Kennedy or how the CIA controlled people’s minds.

Mr. Bell, a Marine brat who said he attended more than 30 high schools as his family moved around, served as a medic for the Air Force in Vietnam, and began his broadcasting work on the military’s station in Okinawa, Japan, where he once stayed on the air as a DJ for 116 hours nonstop, earning an entry in Guinness World Records. (He also held the record for seesawing while broadcasting — 57 hours. Top 40 AM radio DJs did that sort of thing in the 1970s.)

After studying engineering at the University of Maryland, Mr. Bell returned to radio, playing the hits on small stations in New England and California. The work left him feeling empty, and he moved to Las Vegas, where he was working as a cable guy when a radio station asked him to take on a part-time, overnight slot as a talk-show host.

His nightly “Coast to Coast” show ran from 1989 to 2003, and he continued broadcasting on weekends until 2007. He briefly returned with a satellite radio show in 2013 and an online program, “Midnight in the Desert,” in 2015. That show ended after a few months, because, Mr. Bell said, someone had taken to firing a weapon at his Nevada property.

Mr. Bell was married four times; to Sachiko Pontius and Vickie Baker, from whom he was divorced; to Ramona Hayes, who died in 2006; and to Airyn Ruiz, whom he met when she befriended him online after the death of his previous wife. Ruiz was then 22 and living in the Philippines. He is survived by Ruiz and his five children, Vincent Pontius, Lisa Pontius Minei, Arthur Bell IV, Asia Bell and Alexander Bell.

Naturally, Mr. Bell died on Friday the 13th.

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Marc Fisher, a senior editor, writes about most anything. He has been The Washington Post’s enterprise editor, local columnist and Berlin bureau chief, and he has covered politics, education, pop culture and much else in three decades on the Metro, Style, National and Foreign desks.

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Obituaries

Art Bell, mysterious narrator of the American nightscape, is dead at 72

By Marc Fisher

April 14, 2018 at 6:12 PM

Art Bell in 1998. (Lee Zaichick/For The Washington Post)

In the small of the night, when the mind is open and the defenses are eased, mysteries blossom and conspiracies run wild. In the darkest of hours, Art Bell was a light left on for the lonely, the insomniacs, the Americans searching for answers in a society they believed was spinning out of control.

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