Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio Monday revealed that his estranged father fatally shot himself more than three decades ago, saying it was "an unbelievable, incredibly difficult moment."
His father, Warren Wilhelm, was an alcoholic, a heavy smoker and a World War II veteran who lost his leg in the bloody battle on Okinawa and returned home traumatized, de Blasio told WNYC in an interview.
"He was drunk pretty much every day so if I had anything to do with him it was in the context of that," said de Blasio, who was 18 when his father committed suicide. "It was very painful that this was the consistent reality."
De Blasio, 52, has spoken about his father's struggle with alcohol after he returned from war and how his parents divorced when he was 8 years old. The candidate, however, has never publicly discussed his father's death.
After learning that the New York Post was going to publish a story about Wilhelm's suicide, the de Blasio campaign released a statement that read: "While this has been a private part of my family's life, it is now clear a media story will soon emerge. My father tragically ended his life while battling terminal cancer in 1979."
Wilhelm, 61, shot himself with a rifle in a car parked outside a New Milford, Conn., motel in August 1979, according to the Post story. A death certificate filed in the town clerk's office showed that Wilhelm died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest and was suffering from lung cancer, the Post said.
Monday morning, De Blasio toured an early-education center in East Harlem, where he read "My Family Is Forever" to pre-kindergartners, recalling how he used to read to his own kids, Chiara, 18, and Dante, 16.
Dante learned only Monday that his grandfather committed suicide, though Chiara had known, de Blasio told WNYC.
Wilhelm was cremated and his ashes spread in Long Island Sound where he used to sail, de Blasio said.
Questions about Wilhelm, who virtually had no role in raising de Blasio, have swirled recently in connection to de Blasio's name changes over the years. De Blasio was raised by his mother, Maria de Blasio, and her family in Cambridge, Mass.
Born Warren Wilhelm Jr. in 1961, de Blasio changed his name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm in 1983 and then to Bill de Blasio in 2002.
His father was born in Staten Island and graduated from Yale. He left the family when de Blasio was 7, and the couple divorced a year later. De Blasio has two older brothers, Steven and Don Wilhelm. His mother died in 2007.
"It's a very painful family reality," de Blasio told a Newsday reporter earlier this month when asked about his name change. "And I come from, unfortunately, a broken family and I made the decision even in high school to represent my mother's family name in my name and then ultimately, made it legal later on."
De Blasio's campaign did not return calls. He told WNYC: "I think some things still need to be respected about families and I think it's fair that I would . . . explain the situation for one person. But after that I don't have any intention to talk about it anymore."