The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia is greatly saddened to hear of the death of distinguished American journalist Nate Thayer, who had struggled with illness in recent years. He was 62 when he died this week.
As soon as the United Nations put peacekeepers on the ground in Cambodia, journalists from around the world arrived en masse to track the country’s next formative decades. A few distinguished themselves, and among them was Thayer.
Thayer arrived as a freelancer for the Far Eastern Economic Review and soon became a consistent contributor for the Phnom Penh Post and the Cambodia Daily. Throughout the 1990s, he was widely regarded as the best of the best, relentlessly pursuing Khmer Rouge leaders with abandon.
He wrote himself into the history books by interviewing Pol Pot and filming his trial in 1997. He also conducted the only known interview with warlord Ta Mok.
In another instance, Thayer reported from Prince Norodom Chakrapong’s hotel room as government troops prepared to execute and arrest the accused coup-plotter. The prince, who received safe passage to the airport with help from Thayer, later credited the journalist’s presence with saving his life.
Thayer later went with photojournalist Nic Dunlop to track down and confront Kang Kek Iew, known as Comrade Duch, the director of the infamous S-21 Khmer Rouge security prison where thousands were killed. After the interview, Duch, who had been in hiding, turned himself into authorities.
Thayer was a formidable force among journalists who sought his advice from the bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club, where he often held court. He was always generous.
What he learned in Cambodia he later took to Iraq, where he covered the U.S. invasion in 2003 from Baghdad. He was confronted by the heavy hand of Saddam Hussein’s secret police, who tore apart his room in the Palestine Hotel and forced him to flee.
As much an adventurer as he was a journalist, Thayer returned home to the U.S. to cover a range of subjects including the Ku Klux Klan, while intermittently working on his book “Sympathy for the Devil,” a memoir detailing his search for Pol Pot.
He also worked for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, defense and security outlet Janes and Soldier of Fortune Magazine (SoF).
He once led an elephant-riding expedition into the Cambodian jungle in search of the lost Kouprey, a bovine now believed to be extinct. No sightings were reported but glossy pictures from the field filled several pages of SoF.
Nate’s reputation was well-earned and his life well-spent, and his final years were lived out by the beach in the American northeast with his much-loved dog, Lamont.
–Overseas Press Club Cambodia