David Carr, a writer who wriggled away from the demon of drug addiction to become a name-brand media columnist at The New York Times and the star of “Page One,” a documentary about the newspaper, died Thursday in Manhattan. He was 58.
Carr collapsed in The Times newsroom, where he was found shortly before 9 p.m. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Earlier in the evening, he moderated a panel discussion about the film “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden, the film’s director Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, a journalist.
Carr wrote about cultural subjects for The Times; he initiated the feature known as The Carpetbagger, a regular report on the news and nonsense from the red carpet during awards season. He championed offbeat movies like “Juno,” with Ellen Page, and he interviewed stars both enduring and evanescent - Woody Harrelson, Neil Young, Michael Cera. More recently, however, he was best known for The Media Equation, a Monday column in The Times that analyzed news and developments in publishing, television, social media - for which he was an early evangelist - and other communications platforms. His plain-spoken style was sometimes blunt, and he was searingly honest about himself. The effect was both folksy and sophisticated, a voice from a shrewd and well-informed skeptic.
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“We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it,” he wrote on Monday in the wake of revelations that NBC anchor Brian Williams had lied about being in a helicopter under fire in Iraq in 2003.
“That’s why, when the forces of man, or Mother Nature, whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag bearer. We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”
Carr’s rise to a prominent position at The Times is all the more remarkable for the depths from which he rose.
As he chronicled in his 2008 memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” by the late 1980s, he was addicted to crack cocaine and living with a woman who was both a drug dealer and the mother of his twin daughters, and one night shortly after the girls were born he left them in a car while he went into a house to score some coke from a dealer named Kenny.
“Kenny’s lip-licking coke rap was more ornate, somehow more satisfying, than that of most of the dealers I worked with,” Carr wrote as part of a horrifying confession. “His worldview was all black helicopters and white noise - the whispering, unseen others who would one day come for us. It kept me on my toes.
“But tonight I had company. I certainly couldn’t bring the twins in. Even in the gang I ran with, coming through the doors of the dope house swinging two occupied baby buckets was not done. Sitting there in the gloom of the front seat, the car making settling noises against the chill, I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not.”
Before joining The Times, Carr was a contributing writer for The Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine. In 2000, he was the media writer for Inside.com, a website focusing on the business of entertainment and publishing.
Before coming to New York, he served for five years as editor of Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C. From 1993 to 1995, he was editor of the Twin Cities Reader, a Minneapolis-based alternative weekly, and he wrote a media column there as well.
Carr lived in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife, Jill Rooney Carr, an event planner, and their daughter Maddie. He also has twin daughters, Erin and Meagan.