Firebrand Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck returns to his Northwest roots this weekend, scheduled to speak and sign books at Seattle’s Safeco Field and, later, to receive the proverbial key to the city of his former hometown of Mount Vernon.
Amid protests, petitions and threats of shopping boycotts, the mayor of the Skagit County city best known for its tulips has proclaimed the day as "Glenn Beck Day," igniting a firestorm against the conservative television and radio commentator known for his plain-spoken, sometimes inflammatory views.
Beck, whose meteoric rise in American pop culture in recent months has landed him on the cover of Time magazine and Forbes' list of richest celebrities, and won him legions of fans and foes alike, lived most of his childhood in the town of about 30,000 roughly an hour’s drive north of Seattle.
His father operated a bakery in old downtown, and Beck attended a private Catholic school through the eighth grade. At 13, Beck won a contest that landed him his first broadcast gig as a deejay for a local radio station.
But one of the defining moments in Beck's early life in Washington — an event still shrouded in mystery — occurred in the waters of South Puget Sound three decades ago.
On May 15, 1979, boaters found the body of Beck’s 41-year-old divorcee mother, Mary, floating about two miles north of the Asarco smelter at Ruston.
A day later, the body of the man who reportedly had taken Beck's mother fishing was found washed ashore near Vashon Island's Tahlequah Ferry Dock. The man's small boat also was found beached at Maury Island, with a small dog, personal items and an empty bottle of booze inside.
Years later, during his radio and television broadcasts and in interviews, Beck consistently has described his mother's death as a suicide, part of a running thread in the fabric of his personal story of salvation — the hallmark of his broadcasts. Beck’s stepbrother also killed himself, Beck has said.
"My mom wasn't mother of the year," Beck told his audience last year. "My mother, my mother had real deep, deep problems. She was doing her best, but she left the family to deal with suicide when I was 13 years old."
Beck has said that, like his mother, he has battled chemical addiction and nearly killed himself, too — until finding redemption through, among other things, Alcoholics Anonymous and Mormonism.
But a recent report in Salon Magazine questioned Beck's version of his mother's death, stirring anger among Becks followers.
Now, news accounts from the time, interviews and official records obtained by The News Tribune largely describe the death of Mary Beck as an accident.
"It was determined that (Mary Beck) appeared to be a classic drowning victim," a Tacoma police report on her death investigation states.
"There were no obvious injuries on the exterior of the body and at this point there is no reason to believe that this was anything other than an accidental drowning."
Yet the report added that Coast Guard officials theorized Beck's mother also could have jumped overboard.
Beck, who has talked generally about his mother's death on the air and in interviews but has provided few details, declined The News Tribune's request for an interview.
Read more at TheNewsTribune.com