Stephen Colbert Opens Up About Childhood Tragedy: How He Overcame the Devastating Loss

During an emotional interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert opened up about the tragic loss of his father and brothers in a plane crash when he was just 10 years old. His thoughts on life, death, and grieving are touching and powerful.

Stephen Colbert Anderson Cooper interview
NEW YORK – APRIL 10: Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper | Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Colbert shared how he dealt with tragedy

During the interview, Colbert brought Cooper to tears regarding his comments about learning to “love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

Colbert’s father and two of his brothers died in a 1974 plane crash when he was 10. Cooper’s father died of a heart attack when he was also 10 years old and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died in June.

Colbert’s great loss was devastating, as the late night host shared, “I was personally shattered, and then you kind of reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in the house.”

Colbert’s touching perspective on loss

During their interview, Cooper asked, “You told an interviewer that you have learned to — in your words — ‘love the thing that I most wish had not happened.’ You went on to say, ‘What punishments of gods are not gifts?’ Do you really believe that?”

“Yes,” Colbert answered, explaining, “It’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.”

He continued, noting, “I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life — which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is, and I am not always but it’s the most positive thing to do — then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.”

Colbert’s perspective was touching, as he shared: “What do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people’s loss, which allows you to connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it’s like to be a human being if it’s true that all humans suffer.” 

He added, “At a young age, I suffered something so that by the time I was in serious relationships in my life, with friends, or with my wife, or with my children, I’m understanding that everyone is suffering.”

Cooper shared what Colbert wrote to him after his mother passed away: “I hope you find peace in your grief.” He noted: “One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is how we don’t really talk about grief and loss. People aren’t comfortable talking about it.”

The CNN anchor said he’s found peace with the people who share their own personal stories of loss. He noted: “I found that the most helpful thing, I found it to be the most powerful and moving thing. And I kind of, oddly, don’t want that to stop because in regular times, people don’t do that.”   

Colbert has found strength in his faith

Colbert credits his faith with helping him to work through the devastating loss, noting: “We’re asked to accept the world that God gives us and to accept it with love. If God is everywhere, and God is in everything, then the world as it is is all just an expression of God and his love, and you have to accept it with gratitude.”