In a September 26 article, The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, reported that while Glenn Beck "has plainly called" his mother's 1979 drowning "a suicide," her "death unfolds more as a mystery in interviews and records," and "news accounts from the time, interviews and official records obtained by The News Tribune largely describe the death of Mary Beck as an accident." McClatchy owns The News Tribune and republished the article.
From the News Tribune article:
On May 15, 1979, boaters found the body of Beck's 41-year-old divorcée mother, Mary, floating about two miles north of the Asarco smelter at Ruston.
A day later, the body of the man who reportedly had taken Beck's mother fishing was found washed ashore near Vashon Island's Tahlequah Ferry Dock. The man's small boat also was found beached at Maury Island, with a small dog, personal items and an empty bottle of booze inside.
Years later, during his radio and television broadcasts and in interviews, Beck consistently has described his mother's death as a suicide, part of a running thread in the fabric of his personal story of salvation - the hallmark of his broadcasts. Beck's stepbrother also killed himself, Beck has said.
"My mom wasn't mother of the year," Beck told his audience last year. "My mother, my mother had real deep, deep problems. She was doing her best, but she left the family to deal with suicide when I was 13 years old."
Beck has said that, like his mother, he has battled chemical addiction and nearly killed himself, too - until finding redemption through, among other things, Alcoholics Anonymous and Mormonism.
But a recent report in Salon Magazine questioned Beck's version of his mother's death, stirring anger among Beck's followers.
Now, news accounts from the time, interviews and official records obtained by The News Tribune largely describe the death of Mary Beck as an accident.
"It was determined that (Mary Beck) appeared to be a classic drowning victim," a Tacoma police report on her death investigation states.
"There were no obvious injuries on the exterior of the body and at this point there is no reason to believe that this was anything other than an accidental drowning."
Yet the report added that Coast Guard officials theorized Beck's mother also could have jumped overboard.
Beck, who has talked generally about his mother's death on the air and in interviews but has provided few details, this week declined The News Tribune's request for an interview.
Though Mary Beck's son has plainly called it a suicide, her death unfolds more as a mystery in interviews and records.
According to the Salon story, Beck has said in at least one interview that his mother left a brief suicide note the morning of her death. Beck's father did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
Beck's family did not discuss his mother's death, and neither did he - until years later, when he broached the subject live on the air, according to the St. Petersburg Times profile. His current wife first heard Beck describe his mother's death as a suicide while listening to the broadcast, the story said.
Washington state death certificates show the cause of both deaths as drowning, with Carroll's death ruled an accident and Mary Beck's as "probable accidental."
Although most of the Tacoma police investigation report also describes the deaths as accidental, it offered one other possible explanation:
"Coast Guardsman theorize that Mrs. Beck, who had a history of heart problems and also was thought to be having a nervous breakdown, might have fallen overboard or jumped overboard," the report says, adding that "Carroll attempted to save her and the result being both victims drowning."
The News Tribune article follows a September 21 Salon.com article that reported on the subject:
Early one morning in May 1979, a 41-year-old divorcee named Mary Beck went boating in Washington's Puget Sound. Her companions on the expedition were a retired papermaker named Orean Carrol, whose boat she helped launch near the Tacoma suburb of Puyallup, and Carrol's pet dog. Exactly what happened next remains shrouded in morning mist, but among the crew, only the dog would survive the day. The boat was recovered late that afternoon adrift near Vashon Island, just north of Tacoma. It was empty but for two wallets and the frightened animal. Mary Beck's body was discovered floating fully clothed nearby. Carrol's corpse washed ashore at the Vashon ferry terminal the following morning.
The county coroner found no evidence of violence on either body. Police investigators told Tacoma's News Tribune that the double drowning appeared to be a classic man-overboard mishap -- a failed rescue attempt in which both parties perished.
At the time of Beck's death, she held custody of her 15-year-old son, Glenn, with whom she had moved to Puyallup. She had left her estranged husband William behind in Mt. Vernon, Wash., another small city 100 miles due north. After producing two daughters and a son, the Becks' marriage had collapsed in 1977 under the weight of Mary's chemical addictions and manic fits of depression. It was in the two years bridging this divorce and his mother's drowning that a teenage Glenn Beck launched one of the most bizarre and unlikely careers in the history of American broadcasting.
Since launching his talk radio career in the late '90s, Beck has constructed a persona anchored in a biography of struggle and redemption. It is a narrative with shades of another haunted Washingtonian who found entertainment fame, Kurt Cobain. Both men hailed from broken homes in the drizzly Pacific Northwest. Both men would find youthful fortune behind microphones while struggling with drugs, prescribed and recreational. Both would contemplate suicide before their tethers finally snapped in 1994. That year Cobain would wrap his mouth around a loaded shotgun. Beck, after contemplating doing the same while listening to a Nirvana album, would not.
Over the course of many retellings, the tragedy of Mary Beck would become the cornerstone event in her son's personal narrative of redemption, and that tale of rebirth would became the cornerstone of his career. But the story Glenn Beck often tells about his mother is not quite the one recorded by the Tacoma paper. As Beck would later relate to millions of his listeners, his mother's drowning was no boating accident. It was a suicide, he claimed, explained in a short note written on that fateful dawn and left on the mantel. And he said it happened in 1977, when he was 13, not 1979, when he was 15 (even though newspaper obits and government records confirm that a 41-year-old woman named Mary Beck died in Puyallup in 1979.) In fact, Beck's first wife had never heard of Mary Beck's alleged suicide until years after they married, when she heard her husband discussing it live on the radio.
Whether or not some of its details are reliable, the story of how Glenn Beck the teenage DJ became Glenn Beck the cultural phenomenon has both political and personal significance. But is Beck's journey conservatism's post-millennial crack-up writ small, complete with a preference for faith over fact? Is it simply a classic showbiz success story? Or, as Beck and his loyal legions would have it, is it a tale of resurrection, of a born-again patriot rescued from nihilism and now destined to save America from liberalism?