Was It Only a Game?  Bobby Fischer, early interview...

Was It Only a Game? Bobby Fischer, early interview...

Feb 9, 2008, 8:44 AM |

Among this year’s worst news, for me, was the death of Bobby Fischer.

Telling a friend this, I got, “Are you out of your bloody mind? He was a Nazi-praising raving lunatic and anti-Semite. Death is too good for him.”

He did, indeed, become all that. But none of it describes the man I knew.

Towering genius, riches, international fame and a far from normal childhood might be too heady a mix for anyone to handle. For him they proved fatal.

I’m still sad about his death. In our three encounters on my late-night show, I became quite fond of him.

Viewing the tapes of those memorable appearances, a licensed professional in the field of psychiatry might see foreshadowings of the savage illness that eventually engulfed him. I didn’t.

Some years back, the writer Rene Chen was working on a book about Fischer, and confessed to being unprepared for the maddening — and maddened — thing that the poor man had become.

Getting low on advance money, and having learned that Fischer had been on my show several times, Chun asked if there were any way he could see these “invaluable documents — short of unaffordable fees.” I sent them to him.

He had written me about a still picture he’d found:

Thought you might like to see this photo. When I came across it recently, I was struck by the warmth it transmits to the viewer. Both of you look like you are having a fabulous time. Studying the photo it’s obvious that these two men genuinely like each other. Fischer is clearly comfortable with you.

If you screen Fischer’s Tonight Show appearance, which aired shortly after his ‘72 victory, the enigmatic chess champ comes off well, but doesn’t look nearly as comfortable or spontaneous during the course of 15 minutes as he does here in a single frame. Of course, this is just an isolated image. One would have to see the entire show to make a judgment. But I suspect that the Fischer in your interviews is a Fischer we haven’t seen before. The famous 60 Minutes piece that aired just before the ‘72 match depicts a totally different Fischer — anxious, guarded, serious as hell.…

You were lucky enough to be the only media person that Fischer seemed to be completely at ease with. Taping not one, but several interviews with you speaks volumes about your character and integrity. [I’ll be the judge of that. — D.C.]

Fischer could smell a show biz phony in an instant….