NEW YORK — Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film The Killing Fields, died Sunday (March 30, 2008). He was 65.
Mr. Dith died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at the New York Times.
Mr. Dith was an interpreter and assistant for Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War ended in April 1975. Schanberg was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell. Mr. Dith escaped 41/2 years later, resettled in the United States and went to work as a photographer for the New York Times.
He coined the term "killing fields" for the horrifying clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he saw on his desperate journey to freedom.
The regime of Pol Pot, bent on turning Cambodia back into a strictly agrarian society, and his Communist zealots were blamed for the deaths of nearly 2-million of Cambodia's 7-million people. Mr. Dith survived by masquerading as an uneducated peasant.
The 1984 film about Mr. Dith, The Killing Fields, won three Oscars.
After Mr. Dith moved to America, he became a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the Khmer Rouge.
He was "a journalist and hero," New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said in a letter to the staff Sunday. He added: "That last word is not one I use lightly."