Remembering Daniel Pearl, My Friend and Hero

Daniel Pearl [photo courtesy Daniel Pearl Foundation]Ten years ago this month, millions became witnesses to the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl at the hands of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an Al Qaeda operative also alleged to be behind the 9/11 attacks. Pearl had recently been named the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal; he was in Pakistan retracing the steps of the so-called “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, when he was kidnapped. Pearl thought he was heading for an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani.  He never returned and his final days made international headlines, as did his name and memory.

What I have rarely talked about is the fact that Daniel Pearl was a good friend of mine.  I called him Danny.  At the time of his death, we had lost touch but the event took a serious toll on me. I’ll never forget that winter day in 2002 that I happened to get in touch with an old girlfriend of his via email, and she told me to look at CNN’s home page online.  When I saw the image of him being held against his will, I could hardly breathe.  How could my friend, my sweet, sweet friend be in this situation?  I felt helpless.

The weeks that followed are a blur to me now.  The news of his death was horrible for the world, but for the people who knew him, it left a hole in our heart.

I recently found an email that I wrote a friend when I found out he had been abducted:

I have had a horrific 10 days as the journalist missing in Pakistan is a close friend of mine.  I have known him for 10 years and adore him.  It’s a nightmare…I never could have imagined anything so horrible could happen to someone I know.

And as you know from everything that you’ve read about him, Danny was not just “someone”.  He was special.  He possessed unique qualities.  He was a kind soul.  There were no pretensions, nothing fake about him.  He was a brilliant writer and loved his job as a journalist.  He loved music.  He was curious about the world and told me stories of living in Russia during the time of Jewish Refuseniks and how he had worked to help them.  He embraced Judaism yet wanted to understand and connect with all religions.  And he was brave. But you already know that about him.

I met Danny in college, when I, myself, was a Journalism student.  We became fast friends and that friendship lasted many years, starting during his 3 year stint in Atlanta at the Wall Street Journal. It was there that he took me out to lunch to tell me how how to write a good story.  It was there that I saw his bands (there were many) perform in clubs all over Atlanta, culminating with one called Ottoman Empire who opened up for the Kinks.  I will never forget that night and how awesome it was, after seeing him perform in small clubs all over the city for several years.  It was there that while I worked at CNN, I bumped into Danny at press events and remembered that sense of security and relief I got from not having to stand alone.  It was there that Danny accompanied me to seders, Hebrew language events and Woody Allen films. We were good friends and when we both left Atlanta, me for London and New York City,him for Washington, DC, he remained in touch.  We explored museums on his visits to NYC and met up in London pubs after his move there.

Our relationship became quiet when I met my husband and he met his wife, Mariane Pearl, in the late 1990s  I found out that he had married and I knew he was living in Paris.  When I visited Paris in 2000 during the Millennium, I got in touch but he was out of town.  I had no idea I’d never see him again.

Since his passing, I have re-read several of his stories and realize that what he was writing about was to help change the world, and his words came from his heart.  His colleague and old friend of mine, Helene Cooper, wrote an article exploring his work that tells it all.  She also edited a bookthat contains Danny’s WSJ writings after he died. What was hard about his death was that I didn’t know Mariane or his family, so it was hard to grieve although I did attend a NYC memorial which helped.  Helene was the familiar face on television that I followed in the days after his death.  She remains a link to him and his memory, as do other friends who also share memories of having him in their lives.

As I look back at his unfair and horrific death 10 years ago, I think about the legacy he left behind, the foundation that was created in his name, his 10 year-old son.  He was proud of who he was, and his legacy lives on in my heart.





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  1. Ella Rucker says:

    Holly, I hope you understand what I’m about to say.

    Some stories are so horrific and scary you skim them and breathe a sigh of relief you aren’t personally affected. And then some stories are so beautiful you are touched that you get a small glimpse into who that person was.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m glad I got to see this side of the story. So sorry you lost touch with your friend.

  2. Elaine Ray says:

    Thank you for the very moving post. I remember those days in Feb. 2002 very well too. My mother died the same week Daniel’s death was confirmed. It made a surreal and painful time even more so. Daniel is much loved at Stanford, where he went to school and where I work. There is an annual journalism internship awarded in his name and an annual musical concert presented in his honor. I am always moved by stories of his compassion and courage. It is a blessing to hear from people who knew him personally. Take care.

    PS: Though I long ago traded hotdogs for sushi, I love your blog.

  3. A lovely tribute to an incredible man. It always does my heart good when someone who is know famously for his kindness and intelligence lives up to that reputation, as evidenced by those who really knew him.

  4. Miss Britt says:

    Oh, Holly. What a heartfelt and beautiful tribute to your friend. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Monique says:

    What a beautiful post. That must have hard to share. Thank you.

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