The New York Times correspondent Sydney H. Schanberg, center, with Dith Pran, right, interviewing a government soldier about the American bombing of Cambodia in August 1973. Credit From “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” by Sydney H. Schanberg (Viking)
Sydney H. Schanberg, a correspondent for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and inspired the film “The Killing Fields” with the story of his Cambodian colleague’s survival during the genocide of millions, died on Saturday in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 82.
His death was confirmed by Charles Kaiser, a friend and former Times reporter, who said Mr. Schanberg had a heart attack on Tuesday.
A restive, intense, Harvard-educated newspaperman with bulldog tenacity, Mr. Schanberg was a nearly ideal foreign correspondent: a risk-taking adventurer who distrusted officials, relied on himself in a war zone and wrote vividly of political and military tyrants and the suffering and death of their victims with the passion of an eyewitness to history.
In the spring of 1975, as Pol Pot’s Communist guerrillas closed in on the capital, Phnom Penh, after five years of civil war in Cambodia, Mr. Schanberg and his assistant, Dith Pran, refused to heed directives from Times editors in New York to evacuate the city and remained behind as nearly all Western reporters, diplomats and senior officials of Cambodia’s American-backed Lon Nol government fled for their lives.
“Our decision to stay,” Mr. Schanberg wrote later, “was founded on our belief — perhaps, looking back, it was more a devout wish or hope — that when the Khmer Rouge won their victory, they would have what they wanted and would end the terrorism and brutal behavior we had written so often about.”