Photo: Reagan White House Photographs/National Archives, Washington, D.C.


I Want To Believe People Can Change — Even Monsters

The Legend of Lee Atwater


He asked for forgiveness. That’s what I remember. He asked for forgiveness. Begged. This is what I was told. He was powerful, and then he was dead. Forty-years-old. Young. The year: 1991. And before he died, he made desperate phone calls, some late at night. He apologized. My dad talked about him with respect. There was no reason to speak ill of the dead. They can’t hear you anyway.

His name was Lee Atwater, and he was in politics. He knew men who could blow up the world but they could not help him with his brain cancer. Lee was at the peak of his career when he got the news. Twelve months later, he was gone. It all sounded like a Greek myth: an ambitious prince punished by the Gods.

I lay in my bed the night Lee died. It made the nightly news but in passing. No one cares about political henchmen, even brilliant ones. But it was news in our household. He was the enemy—a Republican. The opposition. He worked for one party, and my dad, the other. We were Democrats.

I was 17, and I had doubts about adults. They weren’t in control. Who’s in control? I thought about Lee in his hospital room, consumed by regrets. I still think about him, especially when a politician says…



John DeVore

I created Humungus, a blog about pop culture, politics, and feelings. Support the madness: