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Anderson, Terry A.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Anderson, Terry A.

(Oct. 27, 1947 - )

Quick Facts

Journalism graduate Terry A. Anderson was captured working for the Associated Press on the streets of Beirut and held hostage during the Lebanese Civil War.

Born October 27, 1947, in Lorain, Ohio, Anderson grew up in Batavia, New York and graduated from Batavia High School in 1965. Anderson served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War as a combat correspondent.

After completing his service in the Marines he was admitted to Iowa State University where he studied broadcast journalism. He graduated in 1974 and joined the Associated Press. He reported from Asia and Africa and was reassigned to cover Middle East news in 1983.

He was kidnapped together with ten others including CNN’s Beirut bureau chief, several professors and Thomas Southerland who was an administrator at the American University of Beirut, by a group of Hezbollah Shiites who were operating under instructions from Iran.

Anderson (left) and Thomas Southerland (right). Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

On March 16, 1985 Anderson was captured leaving a tennis court. Anderson was held captive for six years and nine months, the longest of any of the hostages. He was constantly moved from one location to another to avoid US intelligence and efforts to rescue him. He was finally released on December 4, 1991. He made the cover of Time Magazine with the headline “The Smile of Freedom.”

In 1996 Anderson returned to Lebanon to do a special, “A Return to the Lion’s Den,” for CNN. The trip was a healing experience as he put it, and a reaffirmation of his love for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. He said, "People call me a victim of Lebanon, say I lost seven years of my life. I didn't lose them — I lived them."

On his trip he also met with leaders of Hezbollah, the organization responsible for his capture even though he never saw his captors because he was often blindfolded and much of the time in chains. He noted that it was ironic that his kidnappers were now considered heroes in Lebanon.

Anderson has written poetry including this reflection on having been a hostage:

"Wasted empty years? Not quite. No years are empty in a life; and wasted? That depends on what's made of them after."

An active lecturer and guest professor at prestigious universities, Anderson is the author of a best selling book Den of Lions which is a memoir of his experience in Lebanon. He sued the Iranian government for $100 million for his suffering and captivity and was awarded a multi million-dollar settlement, which was paid from frozen Iranian assets.

That same year, 2002, he ran as a Democrat for the 20th Senate District in Ohio where he had retired to a farm with his second wife Madelaine Bassil. He lost the race but pulled an impressive 46% of the vote in a district that is strongly Republican.

Anderson also co-founded the Vietnam Children’s Fund which builds schools in that country. His second charity is the Father Lawrence Jenco Foundation that he created in honor of one of his fellow captives in Lebanon, Father Jenco. This charity recognizes and provides support for people who do community service in Appalachia.

He opened a bar in Athens, Ohio called the Blue Gator that featured blues bands. The bar, and Anderson and his partners filed for bankruptcy in 2009 when the county foreclosed on the site.

In 2011 Anderson appeared on the National Geographic Society “Explorer” series “Surviving Death.” In that program Anderson revealed that, “"Something that I didn't realize and my family didn't realize for a long time was how badly I had been damaged," he said. "At one point, the psychiatrist I saw said it would take as long as I had been held hostage to recover: seven years. And, in fact, I think they were understating it. There was a lot of damage to all of us and certainly to me that didn't emerge for a very long time. And I haven't ever talked very much about that."’

He also has said that he loves living on a horse farm outside of Lexington, Kentucky, loves teaching journalism. He added, “I just had my knee replaced. It's part of my million-mile makeover. I'm 64. I'm going to get the other one in March, so I'm doing OK. I'm enjoying life and pretty happy.”

Selected Sources

Anderson, Terry. Den of Lions: A Startling Memoir of Survival and Triumph. Ballantine Books, 1995.

Dawidziak, Mark. “Terry Anderson Recalls Hostage Ordeal for National Geographic Special.” cleveland, January 10, 2011.

“Lebanon: Return to the Lion's Den,” 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.

Phillips, Jim. “Former Blues-Bar Building Purchased for $450,000.” The Athens NEWS, June 12, 2015.

“The Last U.S. Hostage; Anderson, Last U.S. Hostage, Is Freed by Captors in Beirut” The New York Times, December 5, 1991.

Since his hostage years, Terry Anderson relishes ‘very, very good life’. Story by Greg Botelho, Video by Matthew Gannon, CNN, February 9, 2016.

Terry Anderson Papers, MS-272, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

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