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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Remembering Charles Kuralt

Posted January 25, 2007 9:36 a.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2007 4:34 a.m. EST

     The last time I saw Charles Kuralt he was smoking a cigarette outside the studios of UNC Television in Research Triangle Park. The year was 1997. I can't believe it's been ten years. Little did I know that in just a few weeks I would be covering his funeral in Chapel Hill.

     The last words Charles said to me were: "Bill, the next time you're in New York please stop by and see me." I truly believe he meant that. Charles had driven his black Mercedes down from the Big Apple for the taping of a poetry series at UNC. He invited me over for an interview. We really connected.

     Kuralt had long been a journalistic hero with his brilliant writing style and unique stories from the road and in the studio on Sunday Morning for CBS. My Tar Heel Traveler and Spirit of Carolina news reports in the 1980's and 1990's were patterned after Kuralt's 20 year, 600 plus episode "On the Road" series during which the Wilmington native logged more 1,000,000 miles in a motor home. Kuralt was the poet of America's backroads and I thought about him this week after reading  responses to my blog "Missing the Road." 

     The first time I met Charles was at a UNC-Kentucky football game in Chapel Hill.  He was flipping ashes from a cigarette and they burned a hole in his blue dress shirt.  The next time I saw him he was doing a reporter seminar at WRAL.  I asked him about his gift of creativity.  He credited his "gift" to the Cluttered Mind Theory.  He said keep your mind cluttered with interesting thoughts, words and phrases and "you will always be able to write." 

    As we approach the ten year anniversary of his passing I know some may be hesitant to celebrate his life because of his 29 year extra marital affair which came to light two years after his death.  Author Ralph Grizzle sums up my feelings and those of many others who loved Charles Kuralt:  "Each Sunday morning as Charles spoke to us seated on a stool, he was perched, in our minds, on a pedestal. Well aware of his own flaws, he never aspired to such lofty heights. He drank too much, he smoked too much, he ate too much and, now, it seems, he loved too much. May we forgive his excesses as readily as we embraced, unknowingly, of course, the emotional deficits that drove him to seek out the people and places that so enthralled him, and through him, us." 

     What are your memories of Charles Kuralt?