William Cohan ’77 Honors Classmates’ Deaths with New Book

Throughout his adulthood, William Cohan ’77 has grieved the unexpected loss of four former Andover classmates. Published in July, his hook Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short follows the lives of these classmates: Jack Berman ’75, Harry Bull ’77, Will Daniel ’77, and John F. Kennedy Jr ’79.

Although it was a challenge to gather interviews and reach out to their family and friends, Cohan persevered throughout the process because he was determined to give recognition to his former classmates.

“I knew it would be a reporting challenge to dig out their stories: what happened to them, how they lived their lives after they left Andover, after we had gone our separate ways, and how they lived their lives before they died. And I knew that that would be an incredible reporting challenge and a writing challenge,” said Cohan, in an interview with The Phillipian.

“I didn’t know whether it would work; I didn’t know whether widows and friends and girlfriends would talk to me, but I was fortunate that people did talk to me about their friends and my friends, our friends. I was able to pull their stories together,” Cohan added.

Cohan sought to find an explanation of why these tragedies may have occurred, to explore if there were any circumstances or factors that all of these men shared. Yet, despite all having received education at Andover, each came from different backgrounds and lead different lives after Andover. Cohan determined that the biggest thing they truly shared was that of which all humans share: death.

Cohan is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Price of Silence” about a Duke Lacrosse scandal, as well as numerous books about Wall Street. Yet, despite the great successes of his previous books, Cohan did not want to typecast himself in only subjects that regarded Wall Street and highly-regarded institutions.

It took Cohan around three years to complete the book: two to research and one to publish. He had even stopped in the middle to write another book before resuming his process. Nonetheless, he wished to emphasize the idea that all humans share the prospect of pending death, in that there is no telling when it will occur. “Fragility of life” is a phrase that Cohan repeatedly used to describe the main themes of the book.

“We all know we’re going to die, [but] we don’t know how or when or why, so I thought that writing a book about my friends’ premature deaths would help me and others-many people have the experience of friends dying young- to grapple with the fragility of life,” said Cohan.

In his telling of this generally positive Andover experience, Cohan did not mention factors that could have been potential precursors to his friends’ death, and for him this eliminated the possibility that their tragedies were linked due to any shared Andover experience or circumstance.

But as Cohan wrote in the book, “I just couldn’t get out of my mind that searing contrast between the infinite promise of youth and the harsh reality of adulthood.”

Cohan wrote in the book, “Andover is a place where very big dreams are formed, nurtured and encouraged without the slightest bit of irony. When they get snuffed out, whether in an instant or over time, the damage…can be substantial, if only because it reveals the stark truth that no one is exempt from the one unavoidable aspect of life: death.”