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Charles Templeton (1915-2001)

Charles Templeton (1915-2001)

New: The full text of his Anecdotal Memoir is up online, though it has not yet been proofed.

The full text of Jesus, his 1973 New Testament version is up online.

At the wedding, 43 years old

It's surprising the wave of emotion that comes simply writing the title of this web page. Still, I think it's worth it to write some pages about my father's life, for those friends of mine who, being neither around in the 40s nor Canadian, never knew of him.

Charles Bradley Templeton died on June 7th of 2001 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease. That disease, which I'll write more about, kills you very slowly, so his death was not unanticipated but still disturbing.

My Canadian friends know him because when I was young, he was a pretty famous person in Canada. He would be commonly recognized on the street, and simply saying my own name was enough to ask if I was related to him. My mother had also been a TV star at the time of my birth, if I needed more to give me a swelled head. By the 80s, however, he dropped largely out of public life "only" writing books, including some best-sellers, and publishing his last book in 1996 while already suffering from the beginnings of the disease.


Still, when he died, though he had rarely been in the public eye for 20 years, he got a good share of obituaries. The best was probably in the Toronto Star, which put him on the front page and gave him a full page inside. Of course, he was managing editor of the Daily Star (The newspaper for which the Daily Planet was named) when I was very young.

(I've been asked in fact if I started the first internet newspaper out of a desire to go into the family business. As you'll read, I can only say that my siblings and I remain mostly confused about what the family business was.)

Here's a list of his major obituary pieces in print and on TV. (Alas, some have expired from their web sites.)

  1. Toronto Star Obituary.
  2. CBC News Obituary. He starred on several CBC shows.
  3. CBC Video Obituary in Quicktime and RealPlayer format.
  4. The CTV News Obituary page
  5. CTV Video Obituary (RealPlayer)
  6. One minute snippet of him introducing a program he did on the Viet Nam War. (RealPlayer)
  7. Globe and Mail Obituary. (Less flattering, and written by a dead man. He got his first media job as a sports cartoonist for the Globe in 1932, reaching syndication soon after.)
  8. Column by Larry Zolf of the CBC.
  9. Pierre Berton's article in the Globe and Mail

Of course, there was hardly a major news job in Canada he didn't have, which kept him remembered years after his star faded. In particular, he was director of News at CTV and created W-FIVE, which today is the longest running newsmagazine program in North America (2 years older than 60 minutes.)

There were a variety of other obits on the TV stations and newspapers, though I didn't find anything in the U.S. press. I'm sure his former best friend, Billy Graham, will eulogize him a little in his next sermon. Youth for Christ International, an organization my father founded with Graham, seems to have excised him from their history, no doubt because of his renouncing the faith.

(I found an intersting transcript of an interview with Torrey Johnson, who founded Youth for Christ International along with Graham and my father, talking about those days.)

His Life

The obits, and a web search, will reveal the summary of his public life. The most remarkable thing about it was the number of different careers he had and excelled in, often rising about as far as one can go without devoting a lifetime. That's rubbed off on me, and to this day I find the idea of doing just one thing with your life to be odd.

What follows is a very short summary of a long and engaging life. When I get his memoir scanned, even that won't do it justice.

As a kid, he got his first break using a drawing talent I didn't inherit to get a job at the Globe and Mail as a sports cartoonist. (My brother Ty, now one of the world's most respected comic book artists and writers, inherited that talent and surpassed our dad.)

preaching in NYC

He would hit his first career switch soon, and it was a big one. A religious experience led to a sudden conversion and entry into the ministry. Known then mostly as Chuck Templeton, he quickly rose to the top of protestant evangelism. He hosted the weekly religion show "Look up and Live" on CBS. He and Billy Graham toured the USA and the world filling football fields. He counts among his proudest accomplisments using his role as an evangelist to arrange the first integrated public meeting south of the Mason-Dixon line in the USA. Back then many predicted it would be him, not Graham who would become the biggest evangelical preacher in history. But he didn't. He went to the seminary to learn more and came out an agnostic.

This was a pretty big event at the time. Though no preacher was as big as Graham is today, it was almost like Graham renouncing Jesus. A web search will show you that even 45 years later, there is still rancor about it.

Sundered from the church, dad was like the proverbial castaway left shaved and naked in a burlap bag in a strange town. He had no friends, no connections, no skills but his drawing and preaching, no asset but his fame turned into pariahhood, and yet in short order he was selling screenplays and landed a Mike-Wallace style job as an investigative reporter on the news show "Close-up."

What's remarkable to me is that all three of these careers took place before I was born. He lived almost 45 years before he would first have a child. While all of our parents had lives before we were born, my father seemed to have led enough experience for a couple of lifetimes. He had a wife (whom I've never met) for 18 years, who sang at his revivals. They split as he left the faith and because they weren't able to have kids together.

My own origins

I can trace my own origins well. The CBC was producing a live drama called "A Face to Remember" and the director wanted to cast non-actors who were like the roles in real life. He cast my father as the newscaster, and for the singer he cast my mother. At the time my mother's fame and success were greater than my dad's. She had been the singing star of several live music shows on TV and radio in the 50s, fronting both big bands and a small combo. Those sorts of shows were common and popular in the early history of TV, and the young Sylvia Murphy was a singing star and sex symbol for her generation.

In the TV-Movie, the two characters were to meet and fall in love. Well, I wouldn't be writing this if it hadn't also taken place in real life. As my father tells it, after a couple of dates, a rehearsal for a scene where the characters kiss turned into their first real kiss. 6 months later they wed, and 13 months after that I popped into the world. (My older brother and sister, from my mom's first marriage, were legally adopted by my dad.)


About that time he moved to newspapers. Even though he had never worked at a newspaper before, in six months he became managing editor of the largest paper in the country. Just 4 years later, he quit to make a run at the leadership of the Liberal Party of Ontario, which is how in Canadian politics you run for being Premier of Ontario. (To be premier of Ontario is probably the 2nd most important political office in the country after the P.M. Ontario has 1/3 of Canada's population and wealth, so no state governorship is quite akin to it.)

He tried to do this without himself being a member of parliament, which is unheard of, and without having been active in the party before, which is ridiculous. Yet he came 2nd at the leadership convention. Some months later, the winner had personal problems that forced him out, and the other candidates and party leadership changed their tune and offered to endorse him, handing him the party leadership and role as leader of the Opposition on a plate. This time he turned them down. His attention had already wandered to his next career.

In fact, I eulogized that perhaps he suffered from "Career Attention Deficit Disorder." Had he grown up today, he would just have been given Ritalin and none of this would have taken place.

From there he tried his hand at running an advertising business (he didn't fail there but nor did he succeed.) He started what would become an 18 year run of the radio show "Dialogue", where each morning he debated an issue with long-time friend, reporter and writer Pierre Berton. (Berton is now the most well known writer of Canadian non-fiction.) That show became one of the most popular syndicated shows on the air, and would earn him a comfortable income for what seemed like 10 minutes work a day until the early 80s.

Then it was off to running and reporting news at CTV, and a short stint as editor of Maclean's Magazine, the Canadian equivalent of "Time." their obit was pretty short.

book portrait, in his 70s

After that, he took on the role of morning newscaster, but he arranged to be able to do the news from a room built at the back of our garage. This gave him time to try more independent pursuits, namely writing and inventing.

Religion was his obsession even long after he left the faith, so the first book he put out after a 20 year drought was a synthesis of the new testament into plain English called Jesus. From there he went into novels. His first novel (The Kidnapping of the President) sold well (a #2 bestseller) and was even made to a not-so-good movie with William Shatner. (I remember sitting next to him at the Premiere. Having seen it before, he expressed his displeasure by walking out of the film! But then, all writers tend to feel that way about films made of their books.)

His biggest book success would come next. Act of God topped the bestseller list for quite a while, and my father was told it was one of the best selling hardcover novels in Canadian history. It got translated into tons of languages, though never more than hit the lower end of bestseller lists in the USA. The novel was about an archaeologist who discovers the bones of Christ, and his longtime friend, now a cardinal/papal-candidate who decides to kill him to protect the church. Like I said, religion remained his obsession in this, and many of his later novels.

At the same time he tried his hand at inventing. He got a few patents, but only one of his inventions got widely manufactured. (That was TeddyWarm, a stuffed animal with a water-coil you could nuke or boil so the bear stayed warm into the night with the child. Mattel sold it but it never became anywhere near a must-have toy like he dreamed.)

As he reached 80, Alzheimer's was already affecting him. Yet he managed to publish one last book at that age, a non-fiction work called Farewell to God. Sort of an updated Why I am not a Christian it went into great detail about all the reasons he had departed from his earlier career. He wrote it because he felt there were a large number of people out there who were struggling with a faith that was pushed on them as a child. He thought these people, who largely attended church out of habit if at all, would seek out something that could release them from this implanted faith. I don't know if there were a lot of those folks, but the book did stir some good controversy, and I was shocked this year in Boston to find it still prominently displayed in, of all places, the airport bookstore.

All of the rest of his life was documented in his book Charles Templeton: An Anecdotal Memoir. That book is out of print, but the full text is online.


Soon after his last book came out, he was diagnosed with this disease. Nonetheless, he fought it every step of the way. He constantly tried to stretch his memory. Each day he would ask people to tell him words so he could spell them backwards.

To some degree it worked. He could still converse with you years into the disease, though of course things got more repetitive, and he became insulated from the world. Madeleine, his 3rd wife, looked after him with a stoicism I couldn't begin to match, though eventually he needed to be put in a home for full-time care. Only in the last 6 months did he begin to forget who we were, and to the very end, when the disease started shutting down not just his memory but parts of the brain needed to stay alive, he was able to talk and retained his vocabulary. Of all the challenges he faced, he showed his strength as much in this as anything.

I hope you never have a loved one who gets this disease. While other deaths are more painful or more debilitating, your mind is the center of your being, and for him to watch his own mind being destroyed, neuron by neuron was a dreadful fate. In his book, he wrote that the most compelling argument that drove him from the church was not the presence of evil and cruelty in the world, but the presence of needless cruelty. Had he known more about Alzheimer's, he would have used it as the capstone to his arguments.

Getting Personal

I've summarized his public life, with a few personal details. On my birthday (isn't the timing of these things wonderful) we buried him privately and held a ceremony to celebrate his life later in the day. Eulogies were delivered by my elder brother Mike, myself and Pierre Berton.

Because most of the people there were those that knew his public life well, Mike and I concentrated on the personal.

Here's my eulogy. In addition, I also produced a slide show with a tiny fraction of shots from his fairly well photographed life.

And of course, if you didn't before, you can go back to the top to view the video obituaries to see video of him as a younger man.

Other Links

For a man whose public life took place largely before not just the web, but the internet itself, you can read more about him on the web.

Here are some queries:

General Search

Buy his books from Barnes & Noble -- but ignore the Charles MacKay book that shows up in this search, and instead go into the Out of Print section.

Focus on his relationship with Billy Graham

At the CBC

With Pierre Berton


Canadians: Look on instead, they have more of his books.

  1. Evangelism for Tomorrow (1955)
  2. Life Looks Up (1957)
  3. Jesus (1973) (Now available free online!)
  4. The Kidnapping of the President (1975) Film (1980)
  5. Act of God (1977)
  6. The Third Temptation (1980)
  7. An Anecdotal Memoir (1983) (Full text free online)
  8. The Queen's Secret (1986)
  9. World of One (1988)
  10. Succeeding (1989)
  11. End Back Attacks}End Back Attacks (1992)
  12. Farewell to God My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (1995)
  13. Plus a wide variety of articles, booklets, screenplays, sermons and even some music.