Bobby Fischer’s brilliance and madness

    Do you remember Bobby Fischer? In 1972, the chess master captured the world’s attention when he faced off with Russian opponent Boris Spassky for the world championship.

    He became an international celebrity, a guest of Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson.

    Soon after, he would become isolated and mentally unstable, eventually emerging as an angry, paranoid America-hater who celebrated the September 11 attacks and called sports writer Jeremy Schapp a “a typical Jewish Snake.”

    The Fischer story is movingly captured in a documentary premiering Monday on HBO directed by Liz Garbus, my guest on Fresh Air today. I interviewed her along with Anthony Saidy, a chess master who knew Fischer from his boyhood through his dominance of the chess world.

    There’s fascinating stuff here: a mystery about who Fischer’s father was; a brilliant single mom who spent time on leftist causes and drilled her kids not to speak to strangers; Fischer’s relentless devotion to chess; and an exploration of possible connections between chess mastery and mental illness.

    The documentary is called Bobby Fischer Against the World.

    Tomorrow I’m scheduled to interview former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard about his new memoir. That interview airs Monday.

    You can hear Fresh Air at 3 and 7 p.m. on WHYY. If you’re outside the Philly area, you can find a station here. And you can always listen or download the show at the Fresh Air website.

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