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The Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee now in hospice care

Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post during the Watergate era, at his home in Washington, D.C., on June 3, 2012. (Photo by Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)
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Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s health has declined over the past two months and he has begun hospice care, his wife, Sally Quinn, said in a television interview broadcast Sunday.

Bradlee, 93, has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past several years. His health recently deteriorated to the point where he sleeps 20 hours a day and no longer eats much, Quinn said. He began hospice care at the couple’s home in Washington in mid-September, she said.

Bradlee was editor of The Post from 1968 to 1991, during which the newspaper rose to national prominence for its coverage of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal, which helped lead ultimately to the resignation of Richard M. Nixon as president. He is currently vice-president at large of The Post. During his tenure, The Post expanded its network of news bureaus across the country and around the world and became the leading newspaper in Washington.

Bradlee himself became one of the best-known editors in the world due to the success of “All the President’s Men,” the Oscar-winning movie about the Watergate reporting of Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Bradlee was portrayed in the movie by Jason Robards. On Nov. 20, 2013, President Obama awarded Bradlee the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Quinn, who has been married to Bradlee for nearly 36 years, has discussed Bradlee’s health issues previously, most recently in a column published in mid-August in The Post. She wrote then that she delayed telling Bradlee about the death of the couple’s longtime friend, actress Lauren Bacall, as a result of his infirmities.

She offered more details about his condition and treatment in an interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb. The interview was recorded Sept. 18 and broadcast Sunday night.

Among other things, Bradlee has ended his weekly routine of coming to the newspaper to have lunch with old colleagues, Quinn said. His health has been so fragile that the organizers of a local Alzheimer’s and dementia support group asked him to stop attending the thrice-weekly meetings.

“In the last six weeks, he’s just had such a decline that he can’t participate at all anymore,” said Quinn, who said she is writing a memoir of her life with Bradlee.

Quinn said she hid Bradlee’s health issues from the public until it became obvious at a business conference several years ago. During a question-and-answer session, Bradlee had trouble responding to questions about his life, such as his service in the U.S. military during World War II or when he came to The Post.

“You could see he was in decline,” she told Lamb. “You couldn’t hide it anymore.”

At first, she said she tried telling herself that his care was manageable. “I thought, ‘Oh, well this is going to be not so hard because Ben is going to lose his memory and he’ll ask me to repeat things.’”

But over time, his condition became more difficult to manage. At a reception last year, she encountered former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose husband, John, had had Alzheimer’s.“She put her hands on my shoulders and her eyes sort of teared up and she said, ‘I just want you to know this is really horrible. It’s really, really horrible. It’s terrible. There’s nothing good about it.’”

More recently, Quinn said, “a certain peace has come over me, and I’ve had this feeling of serenity because what I thought was going to be horrible, the caretaking part of it, has really become something almost sacred about it. And that’s not drivel. I didn’t expect that. I just expected I would be having a nervous breakdown and it would be too horrible. I don’t think we have been as loving with each other as we are now.”

Despite his ailments, she said, Bradlee remains happy. “Ben has never been depressed a day in his life,” Quinn said. “I’ve been with him 41 years and I’ve never seen him depressed, and he’s just very happy … He’s very aware of being taken care of and fussed over and he appreciates that … He’s totally content.”