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Man Hunter

A personal tragedy led John Walsh to become one of America's most dedicated crime fighters and the host of "America's Most Wanted."
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

(continued from page 3)

He has no favorite brands, although he does enjoy Partagas, H. Upmanns, Davidoffs, Dunhills, Macanudos and Cuban Cohibas. "When I go to [cigar] clubs, whether or not I'm a member, people give me cigars, all different brands, all the time," he says. "I believe in being open-minded. I smoke Cohibas from Cuba. The Cohiba Robusto is a great cigar. I'm also very partial to cigars from Honduras. I often wonder, because I've tried so many cigars, is it the mystique or is the climate and soil in Cuba so conducive to making the world's finest tobacco? Or are they so special because you're not supposed to smoke them?"   Walsh collects humidors, of which he owns several Dunhills. He is also an avid wine buff and a collector of estate-bottled California Chardonnays. "I stopped drinking a while back, but I still use [the wine] for guests," Walsh says. "I'll go to Napa, Sonoma, Russian River, if I'm on location, and stop and have a case or two shipped back."  

Walsh has had more than his share of honors. In 1988 he was named the U.S. Marshals Man of the Year, and two years later he was given the same recognition by the FBI, the bureau's highest civilian award. He has been honored in the Rose Garden of the White House four times by three presidents: Clinton, Bush and Reagan (twice).   His lobbying efforts continue, especially for a constitutional amendment for victims' rights. He hosts training videos for the FBI. His second best-selling book, 1998's No Mercy, written with Philip Lerman, is about the hunt for some of the criminals profiled on "America's Most Wanted" and he is working on a third, about the show and its search for evildoers.  

Walsh has racked up a miraculous list of accomplishments for his 54 years. Perhaps accordingly, he says, his future goals are comparatively simple. "I'd like to get my kids through college," he says with a smile. "Because when Hayden goes--he's 5 now--tuition should be about a half million dollars for four years. I just hope--I've had a lot of close calls, a couple of motorcycle accidents, I've almost drowned twice, I was stranded in the ocean, I was on a commuter plane that collided with another one on the ground at an airport, I was mugged and almost stabbed--I'd like to live long enough to see my kids grow up."  

Walsh would also like to continue in the entertainment business. "I'm fascinated by television. I think of this as my career, until they bounce me out. I'd like to get behind the camera some day and be a full-blown producer and director. But in this business you're only as good as your ratings. It's a harsh reality.  

"You learn through all kinds of things--through experience, through meeting the parents of murdered children--that you take life one day at a time. I'm the perfect example that no matter how prepared you are, or how goal-oriented you are, no matter what your dreams and aspirations are, one day, one event can change your life forever."  

Until this moment, Walsh has been forceful, positive and strong. But now one question, one hypothetical query, will for a brief but telling moment change that impression, will reveal the pain beneath the strength, the anguish that powers this resilient man.  

Is it right to assume that if he could go back and change that one day, that one event, he would gladly give up everything he has accomplished since?   There is silence. His eyes glaze, moisture forms, his voice chokes, then breaks.   "Everything," he says, in a barely audible whisper. "In a minute. I wouldn't want anybody to walk in my shoes. For anything."   Silence again. But not for long.   "I gotta go to work," he says, rising and striding powerfully out the door.   He is, after all, John Walsh. Manhunter.

Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times.

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