Stephen Colbert Opens Up About the Deaths of His Dad, Brothers in 1974 Plane Crash

Celebrity News Oct. 2, 2012 AT 7:30PM
Stephen Colbert on September 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Stephen Colbert on September 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

When he was just ten years old, Stephen Colbert found himself dealing with a crippling loss that took him almost a decade to fully comprehend.

In 1974, the future comic star's father, James Colbert, and two of his older brothers, Paul, 18, and Peter, 15, were killed when Eastern Airlines Flight 212 went down in a North Carolina cornfield.

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"For years, I sort of thought that that was my secret name," Colbert explained to Oprah during a Sunday sit-down on Oprah's Next Chapter. "That the loss was my name, if you know what I mean . . . [the experience] is who you are."

Oprah Winfrey interviews Stephen Colbert in Charleston, South Carolina.
Oprah Winfrey interviews Stephen Colbert in Charleston, South Carolina.
Credit: George Burns/Harpo Studios

The Colbert Report host admitted he didn't truly process the event -- or fully grieve the deaths of his father and siblings -- until he left home at age 18.

"I didn't really feel the loss until I was in college," he explained. "Then, I was in bad shape . . . I was just so sad about it."

"I was ten when they died," he added. "It's only eight years later when you go to college . . . It seemed like a long time at the time, but now, at age 48, it seems like the blink of an eye."

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More than three decades later, Colbert -- who revealed he keeps a card on his desk at work, reading "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God" -- said he couldn't be more content with his current, hard-won joy.

"Joy can be hard . . . it's not the same thing as happiness," he shared, citing his wife, Evelyn, and three children, Madeleine, Peter and John, as the greatest source of joy in his life these days. "I think happiness is overrated."

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