Rupert Cornwell, award-winning foreign correspondent for The Independent, dies

Staff Reporter
Rupert Cornwell was with The Independent from its inception in 1986: Jason Alden/Independent

Rupert Cornwell, a celebrated foreign correspondent and commentator for The Independent, has passed away. He was 71, and had worked for The Independent since it was started.

Rupert joined the newspaper prior to its launch in 1986, worked in the then Soviet Union, was a London-based diplomatic correspondent, and served two separate stretches as a correspondent and commentator in Washington DC.

He was known for his deep insight and elegant, understated writing, on everything from US politics and international affairs, to baseball and history.

He continued to write for The Independent - his final dispatches were on the rising power and influence of Ivanka Trump and an obituary of the philanthropist David Rockefeller - up until almost the very end, even as he underwent treatment for cancer.

The half brother of David Cornwell, whose pen name is John le Carré, Rupert was a friend and mentor to many of those he worked with. He was known as someone generous with his time and advice, and unfailingly modest.

Before joining The Independent, he was employed by both Reuters and the Financial Times, and worked in Paris, Brussels, Rome and Bonn, as well as being a political reporter at Westminster.

During his time in Rome, he wrote God’s Banker, an investigation into the 1982 murder in London of Roberto Calvi, a powerful financier with links to both the Catholic church and the mafia.

Rupert worked for The Independent since its start in 1986

“Rupert was as humble as he was brilliant, his peerless range extending far beyond the politics of Moscow or Washington, to boxing, ballet and baseball,” said Christian Broughton, editor of The Independent.

“In many ways he was a journalist of a bygone, romantic age, but he will remain an inspiration to generations who have passed through The Independent, and will be missed by all who knew him to be such a warm, lovely man.”

Sir Andreas Whittam Smith, the paper's original editor, said that as Moscow correspondent, Rupert had been very important to the project's launch and success, reporting on the largest geopolitical story of the post-war era. He had shown courage, in moving from a prestigious job at the Financial Times to join the first quality newspaper started in more than a century.

“He has died thirty years later still harnessed to The Independent. So to his courage, we can add loyalty. And what a journalist Rupert was,” said Sir Andreas.

“Rupert understood in real time the meaning of the events he was covering. He knew the relevant history so he could provide illuminating context. And he wrote an impeccable English prose. His final piece, written when he was struggling with illness, was an obituary of David Rockefeller, published 11 days ago. He described this bearer of a famous name, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank at its zenith, as never flustered and a patrician to his fingertips.”

He added: “Likewise Rupert was, in the grubby trade of journalism, an aristocrat but by achievement rather than birth.”

Rupert Cornwell at the 1997 British Press Awards (Independent)

Stephen Glover, the paper's first foreign editor, said Rupert had initially asked to be sent to Paris, but in the summer of 1986, several months before the actual launch, changed his mind and instead requested to become Moscow correspondent.

“This was a very far-sighted decision given everything that would happen," said Mr Glover. “And he reported on it brilliantly."

After Tristan Davies became editor of the Independent of Sunday in 2001, Rupert was asked to write a weekly column from the US, something he used to address everything from politics to the arts.

He continued to write the column until just a few weeks ago, and readers turned to it for its lucidity, its understanding, and very frequently its humour.

Like many in the media, Rupert was surprised by the 2016 election victory of Donald Trump. Yet, he threw himself into the task of writing about the New York tycoon's administration with passion and flair.

Rupert passed away on Friday afternoon at Washington’s Sibley Memorial Hospital, in the presence of his family.

Rupert is survived by his widow, Susan, a Reuters correspondent whom he met in Bonn, and two sons, Sean and Stas.

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