Dith Pran, “Killing Fields” photographer, dies at 65

Dith Pran, the photojournalist who documented murderous Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia for the New York Times in the ’70s, died today at age 65. In Cambodia, Mr. Dith worked alongside American journalist Sydney Schanberg, who was eventually forced out of the country, while Dith was taken prisoner and underwent a harrowing, tortuous ordeal. In the meantime, Schanberg accepted a Pulitzer Prize on their behalf, and worked for years to try to help his lost compatriot. From the Times:

“Mr. Schanberg wrote about Mr. Dith in newspaper articles and in The New
York Times Magazine, in a 1980 cover article titled “The Death and Life
of Dith Pran.” (A book by the same title appeared in 1985.) The story
became the basis of the movie “The Killing Fields.” The film, directed
by Roland Joffé, portrayed Mr. Schanberg, played by Sam Waterston,
arranging for Mr. Dith’s wife and children to be evacuated from Phnom
Penh as danger mounted. Mr. Dith, portrayed by Dr. Haing S. Ngor (who
won an Academy Award as best supporting actor), insisted on staying in
Cambodia with Mr. Schanberg to keep reporting the news.”

Despite false reports of his death (one rumor was that he was eaten by an alligator, but that turned out to be his brother (!)), Dith survived and eventually escaped over the Thai border. Schanberg was there to meet him. He became an American citizen in 1986, and worked for the Times for the remainder of his career.

Here are some images from The Times slideshow:

Dith Pran (right) and Sidney Schanberg in the field in Cambodia, 1973

 Shells being fired near Phnom Penh, 1974. Photo by Dith Pran.

Read more about Pran’s story. It’s truly amazing.

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  1. J.Cooper at 10:47 pm

    I rember meeting Mr Schanberg in Phnom Penh in 1973 at the old Phnom Hotel (where many Westerners – especially the reporters “hung out”). I don’t recall any specifics, except that at the time I was in the military and assigned TDY to the U.S. Embassy from our headquarters at NKP Thailand doing B-52 targeting which was very classified. The reporters were always trying to get information out of us who they knew worked at the Embassy. In fact the Ambassador, Mr Emory Swank, had standing orders for us not to talk to any reporters. I also recall when in Aug 1973 a B-52 mistakenly dropped its load on the town of Neak Luong – a terrible tragedy. Just one of many in that forgotten dirty and costly Nixon’s “secret war”. We had to leave Phnom Penh in August 1973 when the Cooper-Church Amendment came into effect and cut off funds for offensaive air operations in SE Asia. I still have memories, evoked by the movie, “The Killing Fields” of that time. Luckily, our team was long since gone from Cambodia by the time Phnom Penh fell in 1975.

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