Best-selling author and award-winning journalist Betty Rollin dead at age 87

November 25, 2023

Renowned author and journalist Betty Rollin passed away earlier this month in Switzerland at the age of 87, The New York Times belatedly reported.

Rollin had been an award-winning correspondent for NBC News, though she also worked briefly for ABC News before returning to NBC, and was the author of several books, including two best-seller memoirs.

The first of those was titled "First, You Cry," which documented her personal battle with breast cancer, while the second was titled "Last Wish" and covered the death of her beloved mother -- and the role that she played in the end of her mother's life.

Chose to die by way of "voluntary assisted suicide"

The Times reported that according to a "close friend" of Rollin, Ellen Marson, the esteemed author and network news correspondent ended her own life by way of voluntary assisted suicide at a clinic that specializes in that area in Basel, Switzerland, on Nov. 14.

The stated reasoning for that decision was the endless pain that Rollin was suffering due to arthritis and a gastrointestinal issue, as well as being "brokenhearted" following the 2020 death of her husband, Harold Edwards.

"Betty recently told a few close friends she was going to do this. True to form, she was resolute in her decision; Betty made it clear she did not want to hear our objections to her plan," Marson said in an email to The Times and later added in a phone interview, "She felt she didn’t have much more to contribute."

Dealing with breast cancer

Rollin was born in New York City in 1936 to mother Ida, a schoolteacher, and father Leon, a plumber, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a bachelor's degree in 1957, where she studied acting and initially pursued a career in that field.

However, she transitioned into writing and journalism in the 1960s and wrote the first of seven books while also working for various magazines like Vogue, until she joined NBC News in the 1970s.

The first bestseller from Rollin came in 1976 with "First, You Cry," in which she wrote about how she dealt with and ultimately recovered from a delayed diagnosis of breast cancer that eventually resulted in mastectomies that removed both breasts. That book was later turned into a TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore as Rollin and led the author to become an outspoken advocate about the disease.

Assisted her cancer-stricken mother in ending her own life

Rollin later published another bestseller memoir in 1985 titled "Last Wish," which detailed her mother's losing battle against ovarian cancer in 1983 and how she had helped her mother commit suicide with a lethal cocktail of sedatives after chemotherapy and prescription painkillers had ceased to be effective in managing the debilitating disease.

That book was also later adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1992 that starred Patty Duke as Rollin and Maureen Stapleton as her ailing mother.

In a 1985 review of "Last Wish" by The Washington Post, it was described as "a straightforward account of a family's struggle with euthanasia. It does not attempt to analyze the larger philosophical and theoretical questions. In fact, what is extraordinary about this book is that it is an apparently faithful rendering of the event by a participant who freely admits her responsibility."

"Betty Rollin, then a reporter for ABC News, defends her decision to end her mother's pain as an act of compassion. Legal authorities may disagree; some could see Rollin's book as a confession of murder," the review added before delving into the controversy and ethical considerations at that time about assisted suicide.

It is perhaps fitting and indeed poignant that Rollin, like her mother before her, chose to end her life of pain and suffering on her own terms.

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