Born December 17, 1929, in New York City, William Safire was the youngest of three sons of Oliver C. and Ida (Panish) Safir. (Safire later changed the spelling of the family name while in the army to ensure correct pronunciation.) His father, a successful thread manufacturer, died when Safire was four, and he was raised by his mother in Los Angeles and New York.
After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science in New York, Safire attended Syracuse University for two years. He got a job as a copyboy the New York Herald Tribune. In 1952 he spent time as a correspondent in Europe and the Mid-East before entering the army. In 1954, Safire got a job with NBC, and he helped arrange the famous "kitchen debate" between Vice-President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.
Starting his own public relations firm in 1961, Mr. Safire worked in Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller's 1964 presidential race and John V. Lindsay's 1965 campaign for mayor of New York. He volunteered as an unpaid speechwriter for Nixon and was assigned to help Patrick Buchanan with Nixon's syndicated newspaper column. In 1968 he wrote the victory speech following Nixon's election and in 1969, he joined the White House staff. As a presidential assistant he represented the moderate wing of the Republican Party and was responsible for major statements on the economy and Vietnam War.
In 1978 Safire won a Pulitzer prize for commentary. In addition to his twice-a-week political column, which appeared in over 300 papers, he was also known as a literary stylist, a pop grammarian, and the author of a weekly column, "On Language," which appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine section.
In 1968 he published The New Language of Politics, a dictionary of words and slogans in the political arena, and later he published several revisions. He has also written numerous other books on language, as well as several novels.
In 2006, Safire was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Safire died in 2009 at the age of 79.
This biography was last updated on 10/18/2013.
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