Stephen Colbert Opens Up About the Devastating Loss of His Father

Leila Kozma - Author

Apr. 16 2020, Updated 1:05 p.m. ET

how did stephen colbert father brothers die
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Stephen Colbert's father and two brothers died in a plane crash on September 11, 1974. Doesn't ring a bell? It's not an incident. The television show host has refused to discuss this deeply private matter for decades. 

Until now. As an interview with Anderson Cooper reveals, the comedian finally felt confident enough to openly address the sensitive issue publicly.

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Stephen, 55, is far from the only celebrity to hesitate to discuss childhood traumas — Kim Kardashian waited until 2019 to talk about the death of her father on camera and Mindy Kaling has secretly dreaded every Mother's Day until the birth of her daughter, Katherine.

So, what happened to Stephen Colbert's father and brothers?

Stephen sat down to finally open up about the chilling incident in which his father, James, and siblings lost his life in an intimate-feeling, 60-minute long interview on Anderson Cooper 360

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colbert wife daughter
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Stephen with his wife Evie and daughter Madeleine.

The talk show hosts touched on a variety of topics during the friendly and confidential conversation, like Stephen's Christian upbringing, his endless admiration for the work of Lord of the Rings writer J.R.R. Tolkien, and of course, the tragedy Stephen only came to terms with after he turned 18 years old. 

As it turned out, Stephen is just as generous with insightful ideas as he usually is with jokes. 

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“It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that. 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." 
stephen colbert father dead
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Stephen spent decades grappling with the death of his father. 

As it was revealed during the interview, Stephen's father and brothers — Peter and Paul —died on their way from Charleston, SC to Chicago, IL, among 72 other passengers. The tragic incident left a lasting imprint on the world view of the 10-year-old boy: raised in the loving company of 11 siblings. 

Stephen is the youngest child of James and Elizabeth Colbert. His surviving siblings include James III, Edward, Mary, William, Margo, Thomas, Jay, and Elizabeth. 

Stephen reached out to Jimmy Fallon following the death of his mother. 

In response to the devastating news about the death of fellow late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon's mother, Gloria, Stephen sent out a softly-worded, emphatic tweet. Was this snippet the first time Stephen's revealed his softer side? It's very probable. 

"Mom is the first audience and the best. Remembering Jimmy Fallon and his family in our prayers today," Stephen tweeted in 2017. 

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As he showed at the time, Stephen Colbert isn't all jokes and laughter. Underneath the facade of the quirky comedian lies a solemn, mature man, a reliable source of advice when it comes to tackling traumatic losses. 

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