Ambassador Richard Holbrooke died unexpectedly on December 13, 2010 from heart complications. Though his career as a diplomat spanned half a century, Holbrooke's son David says that it was only when he was onstage at his father's memorial that he "realized for the first time that my father was a historical figure," and that the only way to grieve his loss was "to get to know him better in death than I did in life." The Diplomat is the result.
After studying at Brown University, Richard was sent by the State Dept. to Vietnam in 1963 - one of only a few Americans there at the time, assigned to help with schools and agriculture. Says friend Frank Wisner, "He wasn't prepared to just be another bureaucrat." Richard and girlfriend Litty were married in Saigon, and over the next several years the family moved around the globe. Today,f speaking with David, Litty admits that Richard was absent a lot because of his ambition and the demands of his job. Under President Carter, Richard became the youngest Asst. Secretary of State in history, cultivating a reputation as someone who "stepped on a lot of toes" but was on the right sifde of most of the issues. When David had his own children, he says he was frustrated that his father didn't have time for them. David's younger brother Anthony agrees. "It was about him so much of the time," he notes, adding, "Let's be honest...his life was often more interesting."
Under President Bill Clinton, Richard Holbrooke became Asst. Secretary of State, focusing on the Balkan crisis. David travels to Sarajevo to meet with journalist Roger Cohen, who notes that Richard "didn't think you could understand Bosnia without coming here." David and ret. Gen. Wesley Clark travel the same treacherous mountain road that Richard traversed decades before - one that was the site of a traumatic incident in which three U.S. officials were killed when a personnel carrier (following behind Holbrooke and Clark) tumbled down the mountain, detonating two landmines. The tragedy is a reminder that "diplomacy in dangerous areas is inherently risky," reflects Clinton. Surviving that close call, Holbrooke was instrumental in bringing together Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic for peace talks in Dayton, OH. At the opening dinner, Holbrooke gave his new wife Kati her "first diplomatic assignment": to get Milosevic and Izetbegovic to talk, a story she recounts fondly. Eventually, an agreement was signed: "We could not have reached peace without Richard Holbrooke," reflects Izetbegovic's son.
After serving as Ambassador to the UN, Holbrooke was an advisor on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and was believed to be her choice for Secretary of State. When Barack Obama was elected, Holbrooke was named Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, while Clinton became Secretary of State. But Richard's style clashed with the administration, and he began meeting with journalist Bob Woodward to share his candid thoughts. The years and pressure were also getting to Richard, and he wasn't taking care of his health. Hillary Clinton describes how in December 2010, during a meeting in her office, Richard suddenly flushed red and was rushed to the hospital. A Holbrooke staffer shows David a list Richard recited in the ambulance, which included messages of love for his family. He died in the hospital two days later.
Twenty years after the peace he helped forge in the Balkans, there is now a bar in Kosovo named after Holbrooke, "Tricky Dick's." Roger Cohen tells David, "Diplomacy is the only way you end wars and spread peace and give kids a future. And your father believed in that. He was a diplomat."
Credits: Written and Directed by David Holbrooke; Produced by Stacey Reiss; Executive Producers, Scott Berrie, Tom Freston, Barbara and Andrew Gundlach, Marshall Sonenshine, Louis Venezia; Edited by Seth Bomse. For HBO: Senior Producer, Nancy Abraham; Executive Producer, Sheila Nevins.