David Butler, an American correspondent who arrived in Southeast Asia 41 years ago and wrote an acclaimed book about the last year of the Vietnam War, has died in a Bangkok hospital.
Butler, 70, a subeditor at The Nation for more than 10 years, passed away on Tuesday afternoon after battling throat cancer for several months.
While Butler is perhaps best known for his book “The Fall of Saigon”, published in 1985, he lived in Bangkok for more than two decades – a short period in the early 1980s, and since his return to Thailand in 1992. An alumnus of Dartmouth College (class of 1963) in the US, Butler was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 1941. He had many friends among older members of the expatriate journalist community here.
From 1966 to 1974, Butler was an editor at Playboy magazine. During this period he made several trips to Vietnam. He also had interesting dealings with Hunter S Thompson, the wild boozer and drug-taker whose adventures have been immortalised by Johnny Depp in the film, “The Rum Diary”.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Butler commissioned Thompson to write several articles for Playboy, one of which was about a fishing competition in Mexico. This piece later became known as “The Great White Shark Hunt”, the title piece of a popular anthology of Thompson’s work released in 1980.
Copies of Butler’s letters to Thompson can be found at the website AFistfulofCulture.com.
In 1987, he was one of the assistant editors of the first edition of The King of Thailand in World Focus. The David Butler who ended up working on The Nation for the last decade of his life, was a totally different character – an earnest and deeply serious man, who struggled to fill in missing elements and improve the quality of many young journalists’ work.
Last September, Butler took leave treatment to battle cancer of the throat. In recent weeks, he was visited by his brother and two sisters, who live in the US.
Friends and members of the press will attend his funeral at Wat Pho Tham on Rama II Road tomorrow at 4pm.