It has now been over a generation since Murray N Rothbard left us. It’s a surprise to see kids who were born after he died so excited when discovering his work. But it is not Rothbard the thinker I want to write about. Rather, it is Murray and Joey (his beloved wife), my friends. I realize that I’m the youngest of their friends. The day I turned 30 Joey called me. She was wistful: “You’re the last of our friends no longer in their twenties”.

But Murray and Joey Rothbard are themselves proof that years need not affect the spirit of youth. Murray may have died at 68, but he never lost that spirit. I watched once when he demanded a ‘student’ ticket for a movie. He was about 50, and the uncomprehending ticket girl was confused, asking him what he meant.

“I’m a student of liberty!” he happily replied.

Murray’s life was “a joke that’s just begun” and for him would never end. He loved all of life, right up until the end. Yes, he was an anarchist in politics, but that didn’t stop him from rooting for his chosen Presidential candidate, the one not as horrible as the others. I still remember the night before the 1992 election. It would be his last.

He wanted George H W Bush to win so very much, simply because he hated Clinton, and especially his “Lady MacBeth of a wife” (his words). He called me with the list of states that Bush could win for re-election. I thought about pointing out that of that very long list, he could not afford to lose a single one. But then I realized, “What good would it do?” This is what makes Murray happy…let him be happy. To dampen that joyous spirit would be sacrilege!

I was 20 when we met. Murray was 49 and Joey 47. But we hit it off immediately, having many enthusiasms in common. We’d go on trips together and party together and just “hang out” together doing nothing but talking and laughing. We’d stay at each other’s places when they’d be otherwise empty.

There was some overlap. Once, when they were in London, I came home to find Murray dancing like a kid at Christmas. He had finally gotten cassettes of all of Al Bowlly’s singing. Bowlly had died when Murray was 15, and his hits had been when Murray was only ten or so. Bowlly had long been forgotten in the US, so it was a present for which he’d waited over 40 years.

His memories were astounding: he told me he remembered the 1920s, though he was born in 1926.

The first movie he ever saw was 1933’s Flying Down To Rio. That led to a lifetime’s adoration of Fred Astaire.

When Astaire died in 1987, Murray showed me the file he’d been keeping. The two had something in common: Murray could effortlessly live his life as he wanted it, and sing with Astaire “I’m throwing off the bars that held me down”.

It wasn’t until they came to Las Vegas that they got a house large enough to have a guest room. Those last years were the times we lived together, or at least visited together, the most.

A normal day would begin with Joey and I getting up early, and by early I mean about 10 am. We’d be chatting or grocery shopping until sometime in the early afternoon, when Murray would get out of bed. It was always the same routine: a bit grumpy in the morning (his morning, anyway). I never thought it strange at the time, but he’d come out in just his boxers. His skin was never in the sun, so whatever stripes he wore were the only colorful thing about him.

We’d know enough to leave him alone until he’d truly woken up – maybe the first 45 minutes or so. There were so many happy days just hanging around.

One typical day I remember only because Murray immortalized it. It was an August day in 1984. Joey had a bunch of errands to run and we agreed to meet her at the Safeway at a certain time. I always had a car and Murray and I would often see a movie in the afternoon.

That day it was Red Dawn, about an invasion of the US and homegrown guerrillas rising up to fight it. Can you imagine how lucky I was to be able to talk to him about that subject, loving as we both did General Charles Lee and libertarian theories of warfare? And yet, joy of joys, that was a normal day when I was with them.

After the movie we met Joey at the Safeway, but she was nowhere near finished. In Las Vegas, they have slot machines everywhere, even in supermarkets. Murray rarely gambled, but he caved in that day and ventured one quarter. He spent maybe 20 minutes looking at the slot machine and muttering how only stupid people gamble like that, until he finally gave in. After losing, he shook his fist at the machine and growled in a way that made not just me but passersby break out laughing.

Called upon to remember special times with them, I find that hard. It was all so very ordinary: things that a normal family (who all loved each other) would do.

No subject was off-limits, and because we had so many interests in common there was never a lack of things to talk about, even when we talked about “nothing” in the days before Seinfeld made that famous.

One of the things they liked about me was my interest and knowledge in what Murray would call “Old Culture”: the popular culture of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. We would travel to see shows by Murray’s favorite Rogers and Hart, along with Cole Porter, the Gershwins and Jerome Kern. Even shows with lyrics by Yip Harburg drew us both.

The astounding thing is that Murray could not only play this music on the piano, he knew all the lyrics by heart.

And that’s not all he knew. Joey was a Protestant, and Murray an atheist. Nonetheless, several years we all went to Joey’s church on Easter. I wish I remember which one it was, but I only remember it was on the East side of NYC. Whatever hymns were to be sung, Murray knew them by heart. His favorites were the oldest ones from the 17th century. He had a sweet singing voice, too. He loved to hear composers singing their own songs, and Cole Porter recorded a few. I bring this up because Murray’s light tenor reminds me of Porter’s. Neither were great singers, but they each obviously loved the songs they sang.

Murray’s repertoire was huge. When I would come over fresh from seeing a Gilbert and Sullivan show, Murray would start singing his favorite songs from it, knowing all the words. Perhaps his favorites were the ones that dove-tailed with his philosophy, so I particularly remember him loving “My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime”, from The Mikado.

If you know that song, you’ll know that performers are free to substitute the types of people they’d punish, and bring the lyrics up to date. He’d have fun “filling in the blanks” and making up his own “enemies list”.

But I remember what really floored me was when I learned that he knew lyrics of light operas in either German or French. He sang things from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus or Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne. I knew he read French and German, but his being able to sing so well was a surprise.

I say this because for all his knowledge on such a wide variety of things there was never anything pretentious about him. And I don’t just mean to me…he never talked down to anyone as far as I ever saw or even heard.

I want this to be about Murray and Joey, but I can’t help remembering that he always had time for me. I don’t know of anyone else who understood me the way he did, and made me feel so valuable. When I look at all the things he wrote (normally from midnight to 7 am), and all the time during the day he spent on the phone, it still astounds me how much time he took with me. If I needed an opinion on something I was involved with, he was always there to help.

Aside from that, he’d toss off extraordinary tidbits such as, “Mises told me that he thought Bohm-Bawerk committed suicide. It was late August, 1914, and he saw that his world would be swept away forever.” Also with Mises: “He believed we need a State if only to support the Opera!”…

Murray was more of an intellectual son of Warren Buffett’s father Howard than Warren was. Somewhere I hope someone has kept the letter Murray showed me where then-Congressman Buffett believed the Americans provoked the North Korean attack of 1950. That entire correspondence would make a wonderful book. I’m not sure that Murray kept carbons in those days, but somewhere in Warren Buffett’s Omaha basement his father’s papers lie, still untouched…. When Oliver Stone’s JFK came out, Murray couldn’t understand all the controversy: “There was nothing in that movie that we didn’t already know.”

No well-stated opinion was off-limits to him. Once when he came into some money he told Joey that he was going to subscribe to The Nation in a rare tone of voice that brooked no argument from her. Otherwise, she’d often say, “Oh, Murray….” to some of his more outlandish views. I’m sure I could think of a hundred similar things. He was an intellectual who loved all manner of ideas, and refused to stick to his narrow economic specialty.

Joey said she knew she married an unusual man when they spent part of their honeymoon laughing while reading H L Mencken’s three volume “Days” aloud.

He was a “night person” and once explained it this way: “Lots of New Yorkers say they need to have country houses so they can work without noise. But from midnight to six a.m., there is no noise, so it is just like being in the country. Who needs a country house?” He certainly didn’t normally enjoy being out of a city.

He loved NYC because you could go and eat any time of the night. One memorable night we both saw Woody Allen’s jazz group and then went to one of the delis – the Stage? the Carnegie? I’ve forgotten – for hours, just laughing and talking, again usually about nothing. But it was wonderful to be able to make any allusion from the worlds of culture, history, or politics and not have to explain it.

He loved Las Vegas because it, too, was open at all hours. Even though the “ambience” was not the same as NYC, he certainly made the best of it. He was a huge sports fan, and at the time the basketball team of the college he taught at, UNLV, was a big winner. He knew the insides and out of so many sports you wondered how he had the time. I asked him and he said, “I really just jump on close to the end, as in the run-up to the Super Bowl, March Madness, or the World Series.” I think he was being modest. I don’t know how he found the time, but watching sports was a fun thing for him, and he remembered all the statistics.

Come to think of it, he didn’t seem to do anything that wasn’t fun. The only exception I can think of is when he had committee meetings at his university. Good God, did he hate academic politics! He was awful at it, and avoided those meetings whenever possible. I bring this up to show that that was the only time he did something he didn’t consider fun.

By the time I knew him (1975-95) most of his major work was finished. However, the rising libertarian movement was getting underway. And how he loved his plotting! Every night at some point he’d get on the phone with either one of two people and Joey and I would hear him laugh pretty much non-stop. From the late 1970s to some point in the 80s that person would be Williamson “Bill” Evers. At some point in the 1980s it was Lew Rockwell.

Joey and I were not really interested in his sectarian ventings, so I couldn’t tell you exactly when Rockwell supplanted Evers. I do remember Joey criticizing Evers – something she had never done before – over Evers’ arguing about the plot of Silverado, a movie that had just come out. I remember this only because never before had either of them ever uttered an unkind word about Evers. Looking it up, that movie came out in the summer of 1985, so maybe that was about the time Murray switched his sectarian political partner. You’d have to talk to someone else about how and why this came to pass, because you couldn’t find anyone less interested in sectarian libertarian battles than I.

One admirable thing about Murray, though: if he turned on someone who was a friend of mine, he not only never held it against me, he never attacked that person to my ears. I’m thinking particularly about Roy Childs.

I loved Roy, and I had him to thank for introducing me to Murray in June of 1975. Yes, I was sad about the course his life took in the 1980s, and it wasn’t easy watching him go downhill. But I loved Roy, and always will. I bring this up because he once said he appreciated how I never attacked Roy even when everyone else at his parties would. He said it showed that I was a true and loyal friend. If anything, I was tremendously sad when Roy’s name came up. Far too sad to say anything…I guess my face said it all. When Roy died, on May 22,1992, he was only 43. There was a memorial for him a few weeks later, and I went with Murray and Joey. Those last two were pretty much personae non gratae. They hadn’t seen some of Roy’s friends for over a decade. As the three of us sat pretty much by ourselves, I am sure it was the memory of the Roy we’d loved that Murray and Joey focused on.

Given that there must have been many bitter words between Roy and Murray over the last 12 years of Roy’s life, Murray’s attendance at Roy’s memorial (sitting quietly and not calling attention to himself) spoke well of him.

On that day, how could any of us know that in less than three years Murray would be dead? I thank God that Murray’s end came fast and without pain. He had a massive heart attack as he waited to get his glasses fixed and was dead before he hit the ground. There was no warning, and – at least as I remember it – no “running down” of his system.

One of my most precious possessions is the black raincoat he wore on his last plane trip. It was December 17, 1994, from Las Vegas with a changeover in Dallas on to LaGuardia. How do I know this? I found his spent airline ticket in the pocket. He died less than three weeks later.

After his death, Joey offered me any of his clothes that I wanted. He was much smaller than I was, so I only took his socks. They’d never been worn. When Murray found a brand or sort of clothes he liked he bought a lifetime’s supply. So those black socks became mine, and even though, truth to tell, they were a bit tight on me, wearing them made me feel closer to him. (The boxers I’d come to know so well – like his socks, he had a ton of them – didn’t fit, and even if they had, well, there is such a thing as going too far.)

After Murray died, Joey was left completely bereft.

They’d been married on January 16, 1953, and he died just a few days short of 42 years later. Death in the modern world can be brutal. I remember Joey calling me up. She’d just come back to their apartment to find a box marked “Ashes of Murray N Rothbard” in the lobby, under the mailboxes, all by itself.

She kept up their schedule, traveling from the Las Vegas house to the 215 W 88th St, 2E, Upper West Side apartment. But the old days when she’d host wonderful dinner parties that went long into the night…those days were over.

Murray is buried in a plot near Fredricksburg, VA. Joey gave me directions to get there. It is not easy to find, but I went and still have her directions. He (and now she) are buried there because of her brother’s family, the Schumachers, who they were very close to.

I think that of all the things I’ve ever done, I’m the most glad that I flew to Las Vegas to see Joey on her 70th birthday. It was September 17, 1998. I stayed about a week and we had a wonderful time. I would never see her again, aside for a horrific visit after the stroke a few months later. I’m sorry I saw her that way. Her eyes could move, and I was sure she was not happy for me to be seeing her like that. Always in the past she’d taken care to always be seen at her best, stuff like dyeing her hair. I’ll never forget that look in her eyes as she laid in that hospital.

Murray was something like a father to me. (My own father was the first one to point this out, when he early on began calling Murray “your other father”). Though there was tremendous love, there was always a bit of “paternal reserve”, not on his part, but on mine.

I could never forget for long that this was, after all, Murray Rothbard. But with Joey it was different. Though she was born the same year of my mother, we had in no way a mother/son relationship. She was my best friend. We’d be on the phone each night for hours talking and laughing about subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. One night in 1997 she announced that “Diana is dead”, so we both turned on the TV and watched.

I know this may sound like a small thing, but until I met the Rothbards, I’d never spoken much on the telephone. Being a stutterer, the phone was never my friend. So it is a testament to their humanity that, for once in my life, I actually spent hours talking on the phone.

Being married to Murray was exciting, but wasn’t always easy. As she put it, “I am necessary but not sufficient” to him. Ayn Rand certainly came between them, or at least tried to. In the late 1950s Murray was for a while a regular attendee at Rand’s home “soirees”. From what I have heard, I can’t call them parties, since they didn’t sound very fun. Uncontrolled laughter was never to be heard. It was mostly Rand pontificating on some subject or another.

When she found out that Joey was a Christian, she demanded that Murray divorce her. She even had a few “more suitable” atheist women for him to choose from. Many marriages were indeed broken up by Rand’s dictum, but Murray’s would not be one of them.

While Murray was an atheist, it never bothered him one whit that Joey was a practicing Protestant. (The few times I went with them to Easter mass was just a drop in the bucket. Murray often went, so long as there was music for him to sing.)

Well, Rand could not understand this at all, and gave Murray an ultimatum: he could choose her (the highest good, of course, in the Randian world), or “that fat and stupid Christian”.

While I’ve read how mean Rand was to Joey, I can only say what I saw. Joey and I had taken a vacation to Vienna (both being opera and food lovers, we took trips together several times, but only when Murray was taken care of, usually being at week-long conferences or otherwise making sure he was cared for in her absence).

We were at our favorite schnitzel place, Figlmullers, when I opened the International Herald Tribune. It was March 7, 1982. I saw that Ayn Rand had died. Joey’s eyes shined with joy: “Oh, Christopher, I’ve been waiting for this for years!” She dissembled immediately. After all, she realized it was a little unseemly to be so happy at the news of someone’s death. But I’ll never forget her immediate reaction. It was as close to pure joy as anything I’ve ever seen.

I can only imagine what hell Rand put them through.

But if that was maybe the hardest part of their lives, shortly before she died she told me, “We didn’t realize it at the time, but when we lived in Palo Alto in 1978, that was the best life we would ever have”.

It was actually a bit before and after 1978, but I know what she meant by singling out that year.

Through the magnificent largesse of Charles Koch, a virtual “who’s-who” of the libertarian world found itself living in San Francisco or close by. The Rothbards had rented a nice house with a pool, and Murray loved feeding the squirrels in the backyard. And the pool parties they threw! Neither of them actually swam, of course, but Oh, were they happy. I’ll never forget one of those parties in the summer of 1978. All sorts of people were there, from hippie-anarchist types, to silver guru Jerome Smith, to Charles Koch himself – all of them interacting with no pretensions and having an absolutely wonderful time. That was the short period where everyone got along. Roy Childs, Ed Crane, Charles Koch, Murray, Evers… You name them, they were truly one happy family. I’ll never stop being thankful that I was there to see it.

Soon enough the schisms would appear. They probably started in 1979, but I saw what I wanted to see, and it wasn’t until May, 1980, when I realized that they’d drawn up battle lines. Other people can tell you why, but to me it was simply sad that an era had ended.

Joey herself hinted at it before she died, and I believe that she and Murray would never again be so perfectly happy as before they split with Roy, Crane and Charles Koch.

Murray was 52 in 1978, at the prime of his life, and our little world must have seemed as optimistic as the great world seemed before the sinking of the Titanic.

I’m sure other people can tell you why they split. For myself, not even being able to care about the reasons, which must have seemed so very important at the time, but in the grand scheme of things must now appear picayune, it was simply sad.

While I was always loyal to Murray after the split, I have never stopped being grateful to Charles Koch. He made it possible for so many people to live together in an intellectual paradise. Though I haven’t seen Charles since 1980, if he ever reads these words I just want him to know the good he did: the joy and happiness he brought into the lives of so many people in those last years of the 1970s in San Francisco.

The poet Wordsworth put it best, when remembering life during the early stages of the French Revolution, before the Terror, and when anything still seemed possible: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!”

If I were smart, I’d give Wordsworth the last word, but I’ll nonetheless tell you the memory of Murray that comes most sharply to mind. It was on the afternoon of Sunday, February 18, 1979. China had just invaded Vietnam beginning the short war that we know now would be the last conflict in Asia. The sight of two Communist states attacking each other was something of a personal vindication for Murray. For decades he’d been almost alone in pointing out the myth of a monolithic Communist edifice intent on conquering the world.

The entire Cold War could have been avoided had his views held sway.

Anyway, on that afternoon we three were watching a wonderful performance of Swan Lake by the San Francisco Ballet. At the final curtain I watched Murray – his body never to be confused with a ballet dancer’s – joyously and daintily pirouetting his way down the aisle. Most of the applause was of course going to the dancers, but some happy strangers who’d watched and caught his joy, were clapping for him.

That was Murray. He had himself long since discovered the secret of undying youth, defined by Randolph Bourne in his essay “Youth and Life”, which is “always to keep your feelings warm and true”.


Chris Weber writes the Weber Global Opportunities Report. He has written seven books, most recently Getting Rich Out of the Dollar and Good As Gold? He met Murray in June of 1975. Being of independent means, from the time he met Murray at age 20 he was able to spend all the time he wanted with them. As editor of World Market Perspective, Chris commissioned five articles from Murray. The last time they were together was two months before his death in January 1995. They attended the 150th anniversary showing of Balfe’s “Irish” opera, The Bohemian Girl at Hunter College.