On Robert Knight’s Passing


Robert Knight, center, in the photo right, with the author and poet, David Henderson, left, and yours truly to the right. Photo taken in Soho, New York City. Fall of 2008.

As I said elsewhere, I repeat here.

Robert Knight was one of those dudes who was so smart, and SOOOOOO funny, you’d leave his presence with a hurting head, from thinking so much, and a sore belly, from LAUGHING YOUR ASS OFF. He will be missed.

I had heard about Robert’s passing at of all places, on Face Book, a social media network he detested. A colleague of ours from WBAI Radio that I am also friends with over there, Shelton Whalden, had sent me a text with the news. I immediately sent out other text notes to other friends there asking if they had heard, and what they knew. Even made a few phone calls to other mutual friends. No one knew anything.

Robert was a colleague, confident, but most of all a friend to me.

In the 1990’s, Elaine Rivera, then a reporter with the too short-lived New York Edition of NEWSDAY, Robert Knight, and I, lived down on the Lower East Side. I introduced Robert to Elaine in 1994, and shortly afterwards, they became ‘an item.’ Robert, especially, would make it a point to visit with my then wife, Susan Pillay, and I, about three to four times a week. We’d break bread, have a few drinks, and lots of laughs. Elaine was also a frequent guest, along with Robert, to my Ninth Street apartment, living on the other side of Thompkins Square Park, also on east 9th street.

Elaine passed away, suddenly, last Fall. I happen to know that RK, as I sometimes affectionately called Robert, was BLOWN AWAY by her passing, devastated, in fact. We would talk, but his health status was like a yo-yo, before, and since my return to New York from Australia last Fall. We would talk on the phone about meeting up, but I suspected it would be some time before his strength was up-to-par to engage guests. That included yours truly.

On the day that he received his GEORGE POLK AWARD, Robert, my then wife, Susan Pillay, and I, were hanging out at the 9th street digs. We three went to the Mid-Town venue where he would receive this noted award, and was greeted with a large crowd of supporters, all WBAI FOLKS, who just wanted to be around to share his moment. There were about 40 people in all, and that crowd included Laura Flanders, a dynamic journalist, and Valerie Van Isler, the then General Manager of that shop, among other WBAIers of note.

Indeed, those were some ‘HEADY DAYS’ down on the Lower East Side, hanging with RK.

We had a bit of a falling out some time later. It was a rift that lasted well over a decade, I am sad to say. But, in 2008 we got back to where we were in the 1980’s and ’90’s. We hugged, cried and laughed, and it was good. We remained in touch during my five year stint DOWN UNDER.

Lastly, Robert Knight was one of those special American Black men who made you proud to be American, irrespective of race, creed or religion. Without waving the flag of the stars and stripes, he was a constant reminder of not only what is wrong with our country, but also, a guy who offered insight on the other possible ways we could be better as a people, and nation. THAT IS RARE.

He was worldly, in the true sense of the word. He was also very, very funny and a guy who would keep you ‘on your toes’ with his astonishing wit, and humor.

As in the case with so many people one encounters in the world of Broadcasting and Journalism, few people ‘got him,’ others could easily define him as aloof, self-centered, and distant. He was also fiercely private and not always one easy to get to know. Yet, he was also fiercely loyal, and a man who had a big heart with those who did get close, and got to know him.

For me, personally, this has been a difficult period of 18 months with the passing of great friends, and associates, who’ve played a role in both my personal, and professional life. Some of them are known, and some not well known among avid listeners of WBAI Radio. But they all made a public mark, and were known publicly and known both inside and outside the sometimes insular world of the media. I am going to list them here, anyway.

There was the passing of Ibrahim Gonzales, the long time program host at WBAI; Then Jim Sutherland, who was a great friend and professional colleague who I began my television broadcast journalism career with. Jim, like RK, would go on to win several notable awards in his field. He went on to work at CNN, and was later Executive Producer at THE WEATHER CHANNEL. Another brainy friend comes from my Harlem Prep days, who sometimes was heard on the airwaves of 99.5 FM taking about computers, and other stuff, he was Eugene Anthony Alexander ‘Umar’ Argent. Then Elaine Rivera, as noted above, who was a feisty, brainy, warm, and brilliant human being. And now, uncannily close to Elaine’s passing, separated by just a few short months, is the passing of Robert Knight.

All of the above had a connection with, or were heard in some fashion, on the airwaves of Pacifica Radio’s New York station. Now they are all gone. All gone in a strange and eerie 18 month span.

Yet, in knowing them all, and being truly blessed to have had them be a part of my life, I know what they would say. They would say, “Remember me, but do go out and meet and make new friends.”

That is who those folks are. GIANTS in so many ways. Robert Knight would be at the top of that list.

It is just now, in learning of the recent passing of a great friend less than 48 hours ago, that I cannot bring myself to deleting his personal phone numbers from my personal directory. Information about his death, the causes, have been slowly coming out. RK did tell me a bit about his health challenges early in 2013, and having a brush with death, in late 2012.

He survived, and I thought that he would jump this hurdle, too, as he did before. His journalistic awards, and life accomplishments, are too numerous to list here. The word, impressive, is not precise enough to describe the many roads he traveled, and the journeys he shared with untold thousands he touched in a amazing career, few, if any, will ever match.

RK.… Goodbye my dear friend, your great spirit remains with, and inside of me.


Eric K. Williams

32 thoughts on “On Robert Knight’s Passing

  1. That was so beautifully written Eric, I feel so much for you that you have lost so many wonderful friends in such a short amount of time. Im so glad that you are able to remember the good times even though your grief must be so heartbreaking.. My thoughts are with you matey x

  2. Myriam Ayala says:

    Thanks Eric Williams for sharing this detailed article about Robert Knight. It came at a good time. We are losing some great journalists and need to recapture their essence and praise them for their accomplishments. Thanks for mentioning Elaine Rivera as well, a true professional in every sense of the word!

  3. Thanks for sharing and caring. From what read, Mr. Knight was an extraordinary gentleman that made his mark upon the world! RIP RK!

    • Myriam Ayala says:

      Thanks Eric Williams for sharing this detailed article about Robert Knight. It came at a good time. We are losing some great journalists and need to recapture their essence and praise them for their accomplishments. Thanks for mentioning Elaine Rivera as well, a true professional in every sense of the word!

  4. Marke Monroe says:

    Eric, I just finished reading your fine article about Mr. Robert Knight. While I am not familiar with him or his works, I see that knowing this man has influenced you greatly, and that you and he were very close. You made that very clear, and you made me feel that this was a person I should hjave known more about.

  5. beautiful – thanks for sharing – my advice, albeit unsolicited, is NOT to delete the contact information from your personal directory – you never know, right?

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Eric, and the loss to all of us of what indeed seems to have a giant. I never had the pleasure of meeting him; your beautiful and poignant tribute to your friend makes me regret it.

    At least he no longer suffers, and is in a better place.

    I feel for you so much over the many recent losses in your life. It is inevitable as we age: We lose people; that doesn’t make it any easier, however.


  7. Lesley Ann Foster says:

    Beautiful tribute to a man clearly your friend. I never met Robert but your tribute to him indicates a good man of great intellect and wisdom. Thank you for remembering your friend and colleague in such an eloquent and heart warming way Eric. RIP

  8. Robert E O'Donnell says:

    Eric, Thank you for sharing this beautiful remembrance and eulogy of Robert Knight. It was written as only a true friend who had seen all the ‘ups and downs’ that make up a genuine friendship can write. As you may know, Robert really bowled me over with his own remembrance of our dear departed WBAI colleague and friend David Nolan. Robert’s reportage of David’s Memorial was itself moving, bright, personal and funny. Robert had me cracking up at the BAI Holiday Party last year, so I know of the razor wit of which you speak. We are all poorer for the loss, but richer for the gain of having known this wonderful and amazing man.

  9. PAul DeRIenzo says:

    Thanks for the remembrance Eric a beautiful piece. I remember Robert from Contragtate and Undercurrents he knew how to ask pointed questions putting truth to power. He will be missed.

  10. Cynthia Cohen says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Robert Knight Eric! I have worked with you as a colleague at a small Florida TV station long ago- and understand the camaraderie you shared with Robert since I have that same experience with you! Sometimes that old saying seems true- “only the good die young”… He will be missed but not forgotten with your great story.

  11. June Cummings says:

    Thank you Eric for sharing such a profound look into a small piece of this talented and amazing man’s life! What a beautiful eulogy!

  12. Chris Flash says:

    I had the honor of meeting and becoming friends with Robert after meeting him and Dennis Bernstein at WBAI at 505 Eighth Avenue around 1989-90. My first impression was that he was an easygoing guy, but chock full of knowledge, with a wry sense of humor. I liked him immediately.

    Robert wrote a few pieces for The SHADOW, always well-written and articulate, serious with a humorous slant. As an example, here’s part of the last piece he did for us in August 2008, called “JESSE’s NUTS ABOUT OBAMA”:

    “In a cutting remark, Jesse Jackson claims Barack Obama’s nuts,
    exposing a ‘vas deferens’ between the two politicians.

    “Yeah, he said it. Jesse Jackson wants to castrate Barack Obama.

    “The ‘Rainbow Reverend’ was wired up, and couldn’t take no more of what he claimed was condescension when Obama urged paternal responsibility in a Bill Cosby moment during his Father’s Day sermon at a black church. Jackson’s Milton Coleman moment and castration call was captured in-studio by the Fox News-like Channel, which released this excerpt overnight:

    “‘See, Barack been, uh… talking down to black people in this faith
    base… telling niggers how to behave… I wanna cut his nuts out.’

    “The accompanying video shows Jackson delivering a vicious hand-chop as he expressed his sado-homoerotic desire to conduct his orchiectomy on Obama. Also revealed in the tape — but neglected in mainstream media analysis — is the oddly encouraging reaction of Jackson’s interlocutor, Reed Tuckson of the United Health Care conglomerate. A careful audition of the exchange reveals Tuckson
    murmuring ‘Mm-hm, mm-hm,’ in apparent assent to the ‘Jackson procedure.’

    “‘I wanna cut his nuts out. Mm-hm. Mm-hm.'”

    Robert had a wit that I’ve never encountered before or since. I really enjoyed his word-play — I once called him a “word artist” and he just smiled that beautiful Cheshire Cat smile.

    I’m gonna miss Robert a lot….

  13. Aaron Myatt says:

    Indeed Eric, reading your ‘eulogy’ & the comments above, “RK” was exceptional & my sympathies are with you –

    Life is fickle isn’t it! We never know what’s coming next. Be & stay well my friend –

  14. Anita Perez says:

    You have lost too many important people in your life, in a very short time, and yet you manage to keep on keeping on!
    Courage, my friend!
    Robert, and those others who have passed into the unknown country before us will always live on, as long as they are remembered and honored by their best loved friends.

  15. Helen Sanders says:

    Eric Williams … Thank you for providing this riveting, heartfelt summary of the lives you shared at WBAI…with colleague, Robert Knight. To continue such a friendship, ending a rift that lasted years…before ones passing…is one of life’s ‘most precious’ gifts. I join you in praying that all is now well and that there is peace in the soul of WBAI’s, Robert Knight … as he transitions…

  16. You have my condolences, E.

    Great piece, Eric.
    It made me feel like I’ve missed something in life by not knowing Robert. But you summed it up perfectly in your last line – “RK.… Goodbye my dear friend, your great spirit remains with, and inside of me.” So yes, Robert’s now gone, but only as you knew him. It is a scientific fact, not just religious faith (I have very little use for that), that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is lost in the universe; it only changes forms. So the fact is, just like everything else in the universe, Robert was nothing more, or less, than a creative burst of energy that has now changed form. But before he changed form, he was a burst of energy who left his essence in you. So he’ll always be with you, right along with the others you mourn.


  17. Lovely remembrance — thank you. I will never be able to walk into any WBAI studio — past present or future — without expecting to see him. But whether I see him or not, his presence will always be felt.

  18. Rommell Washington says:

    Eric! Thank you for putting out the love for Robert Knight. He was a giant soul who gave his all in pursuit of truth. What a razor sharp mine, wit and character. Communications will miss the great contributions he made in mine and other’s lives. VIVA! RK VIVA!

  19. Rick "Silverback" Senior says:

    As I think about the passing of your friend, and the passing of a very dear friend of mine, I am forced to think about what Rueben “Hurricane” Carter said when asked what he would put on his tombstone – He replied But if I had to choose an epitaph to be carved upon my tombstone, it would simply read, ‘He was just enough.’ He was just enough to overcome everything that was laid on him on this earth. He was just enough not to give up on himself. He was just enough to believe in himself beyond anything else in this world. He was just enough to have the courage to stand up for his convictions no matter what problems his actions may have caused him. He was just enough to perform a miracle, to wake up, to escape the universal prison of sleep, and to regain his humanity in a living hell. He was just enough. And so, my young friend, are you.

    “Just enough.”

  20. In viewing his photo at the top, one can see a bright soul, humorous and kind, if not also private. You gave us an inside view that as you say, not all were privy to see. In remembering your dear friend Robert Knight, you have gifted us all with the opportunity to meet another blessed soul.

  21. rebecca myles says:

    Good tribute. I would like more of his jokes – those you shared with us on air last Thursday. “Harass’

    The news of Robert’s death cut me in the side. He was such an example of intellectual curiosity, wit and vigor that it is hard to reconcile that with a ravaged and declining body. I can hear his cowboys boots thundering down the WBAI corridors either to make us laugh in the newsroom or because he was due on air. He was one of the WBAI 19 that lost his job in August – that was a cruel act and gutted the heart of the station in so many ways.

  22. Reggie Johnson says:

    Beautiful recollection Eric. Robert Knight from his sense of humor to his style of investigative journalism will be painfully missed.

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