Carroll: Walter Hartwell White, 1961-2013 | AspenTimes.com

Carroll: Walter Hartwell White, 1961-2013

Walter Hartwell White, also known as Heisenberg, died in the line of gunfire Sunday night. He was 52.

A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, Walt fell on hard times and eventually became a chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoyed dining on big breakfasts, wearing his fabled porkpie hat, reciting passages from "Leaves of Grass" and sitting poolside with family and friends while drinking microbrews.

He also treasured the ride-alongs he had with his brother in-law, Hank Schrader, who was a member of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Walt took a liking to Hank's work, and when he became afflicted with terminal lung cancer, Walt launched a career in the production and distribution of methamphetamine, unbeknown to Hank for more than a year. Walk did this so he could support his wife and teenage son, Walt Jr., and the soon-to-be-born Holly, who he held at least three times during her life.

A strong chemistry background and brilliant brain made the perfect recipe for Walt's transformation into a criminal mastermind, as he led a wildly successful career in the methamphetamine trade. But it was a dangerously competitive field, as well.

While generally mild mannered, Walt would have to adjust to his new career by taking on a violent tenor, and he did so admirably.

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Some of his noblest achievements were the gruesome murder of Krazy-8 Molina, done by strangling him with a bicycle U-lock; the poisoning death of meth kingpin Lydia; and the dismantling of Aryan Nation members in Sunday's shoot-out, an event engineered by Walt and, in an ironic twist of fate, led to his demise. Walt also orchestrated the death of meth lord and Los Pollos Hermanos CEO Gustavo Fring, whose face was dismantled inside the Casa Tranquila retirement home. He also played a major role in the death of another meth lord, Tuco Salamanca, who ultimately was shot to death by Hank. Hank, incidentally, met his death at the hands of the Aryan members, whom Walt had aligned himself with earlier this year.

Indeed, Walt wasn't exactly a picture of moral decency. He sat by idly as a young woman overdosed on meth and once poisoned a young boy nearly to death.

Yet Walt was a deeply complicated and even more troubled man, in large part because of his research that led to the creation of Gray Matter Technologies. Walt left the firm while it was in its infancy, and he sold his interest for $5,000 to former classmate Elliot Schwartz, who would go on to marry Walt's ex-lover, Gretchen.

Walt's love for his family was his greatest attribute but also his greatest flaw. His historically disturbing telephonic tirade against his wife, Skylar, nearly three weeks ago would set off the chain of events that led to his death.

Even so, Walt White was an intelligent teacher, a wise mentor and a master escape artist.

But his greatest trait was that he epitomized the American dream, or what's left of it, at least.

He was a shrewd, self-made entrepreneur who did things his way on his terms. A few times he stumbled on his own vanity due to some emotionally fueled decisions. Yet in the days leading up to his death, Walt saved face by a perfectly manicured exit plan that made the world a better place.

Walt is survived by his wife, Skylar; son, Walt Jr.; daughter, Holly; and sister-in-law, Marie Schrader. In a strange way, Walt considered his apprentice, Jesse Pinkman, a family member, as well. His attorney, Saul Goodman, also grieves his loss, along with Skinny Pete and Badger.

Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the White family requests that donations be made to a trust fund in the name of Walter White Jr. The Schwartz couple will be managing donations made to that account.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.