January 24th, 2012
Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune
Watch the Full Documentary

Three-time Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Kenneth Bowser examines one of American history’s most iconic folk music heroes and political agitators. Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune is a revealing biography of a conflicted, truth-seeking troubadour who, with guitar in hand, stood up for what he believed in and challenged us all to do the same. Watch the full program below.

As the United States continues to engage in foreign wars, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune is a timely tribute to an unlikely American hero whose music is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. Phil Ochs was moved by the conviction that he and his music would change the world. Unyielding in his political principals and unbending in his artistic vision, Ochs tirelessly fought the good fight for peace and justice, in both song and action, throughout his short life (12/19/1940 – 4/9/1976). The tragedies of 1968, including the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the violent events at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, changed the country and changed Ochs, who sank deep into depression and alcoholism. This, and a familial tendency to bipolar disorder, led to his suicide at the age of 35.

  • Robert Shapiro (Tucson, AZ)

    I never thought I would see a documentary on Phil Ochs. Fine film. I met Phil Ochs in 1969 in Phoenix after a concert. Thank you.

  • Pat Carey

    I was lucky enough to see this excellent documentary on Phil Ochs last year in a theater. Thank you, PBS and American Masters, for bringing it to a wider audience.

  • Kevin Burke

    As I remember it, I was driving through Harvard Square at night after Phil Ochs killed himself and there a was an interview with Tom Paxton on the radio. He was asked why he thought he had committed suicide. His reply was, as I recall, “It Ok to look at the past, as long as you don’t stare at it too long.” I always kept that in mind. Great documentary. I love PBS. It is truly a gift to us all.

  • Doreen Nixon

    Only caught the last 20 minutes of the show – so disappointed. What an influence he had on my generation – and how relevant he is today. Saw him every time he came to Toronto and last met him at the Riverboat in Toronto shortly before he died. Since there are restrictions and I can’t watch it on line – is there any chance it will air again?

  • Michael Bate

    I rented this DVD from Netflix a while ago. Thank you for broadcasting it.

    Phil Ochs was a troubled genius, whose wonderful songs are still relevant today. Recently I saw Joan Baez perform his song “There but for Fortune” and dedicate it to the Occupy movement. Good for her!

  • Lynn Hastings

    I started to get into Phi Ochs’ music in the past few months and found it so honest and moving and important. So when I heard about this documentary coming to American Masters I was so pleased. His story has really moved me. I was only a young child during the 60s but I do remember some things from those times, I loved Christopher Hitchens’ comment that it was easy to like Dylan because everyone did. But it was a different type of person who knew Ochs and his music. I can totally see that. I am a member of the Obama generation, being only a few years younger than our president. I think we need more voices like Phil Ochs today and he would have definitely catapulted the Occupy Movement to a higher level. Thank you American Masters and PBS for airing this.

  • ComplexNumbers

    I am saddened and angered by the complete capitulation to the same issues that the protesters of the 60’s wailed about by those very same people now that they are in thier 50’s and 60’s.
    You are cowards and hypocrites and the sad state of America is your fault.

  • vincent cerniglia

    This is an important piece of the puzzle of our past. This documentary captures a real sense of the American political social and emotional climate of the sixties. Phil was under-apppreciated then, and his ability to spell out what is uncomfortable in our society would be under appreciated now. No one likes the truth teller. We need people like him as much now as we did then. Thank You for making this more available.

  • george magiera

    Doreen Nixon,
    I caught the whole show and thank you PBS for American masters.
    magillaween@adelphia.net ,Lewiston, NY
    WNED is my top TV station in WNY !!
    How is it that his messages was so stiffled….
    I guess i was living the illusion back then…Gentle Giant and Jefferson Starship concerts
    in Maple Leaf Gardens !! …Peace and Love….geo.

  • Kent Borden

    I had never heard of Phil Ochs until I watched this outstanding film. PBS and American Masters are treasures to be supported and protected! I also feel very grateful to have been introduced to the efforts and music of Victor Jara through this same program. I now am enjoying Victor Jara’s music via one of the online streaming music services – I feel much richer from all of this. Thank you PBS and all who support it!

  • Jeff Glotzer

    It was a heart-touching and brilliant program. I knew very little of Phil Ochs, and the showing has created a deluge of desires. Truly one of the best series extant- this proves that art history will live on.

  • Kennette Harrison

    Lived in Chicago during Convention riots. Stoned by black children on day of King’s assassination because ,a white woman, I was walking in Jackson Park in my grief at the loss of this great man. Had taught school in Okinawa with DOD school at beginning of Viet Nam and had students pulled out of class in Kubasaki High School because their fathers were MIA, or shot down like the father of one student, Time magazine cover ace pilot Robbie Robinson. The day Kennedy was shot I was teaching my class of Hispanic students in San Antonio, Texas. We were discussing our excitement at
    seeing the motorcade of JFK and how he and Jackie were so much more attractive than in photos or on tv. I lived what Ochs did and lean left, but understand that territorial behavior that fuels war is a useless defense behavior when a more evolved behavior of sharing and caring for the earth that has cared for us would be more successful to benefit all humans. We have not evolved that far yet. I hope we will before we destroy ourselves. Thank you PBS and the producers of the Phil Ochs documentary for your courage and sponsors for your generosity. Kennette Harrison, former teacher, writer and prize-winning author of a poetry collection, Dowsing for Light

  • Sue Katz

    I thought this was on TV tonight but it wasn’t. Thank you PBS for enabling me to see it again on my computer. I did see it in the theatre. More people need to see this.

  • Karl G

    Same here Doreen- need to know all broardcast dates for So CA . I dont have cable

  • Karl G

    Next broardcast date/time please???? I live in So Ca have & have no cable

  • elizabeth waters

    I was profoundly moved, watching the Phil Ochs piece today, reliving all those times of hope and tragedy and struggle.

    Thank you for airing it.

  • rik pittendorfer

    Bill Moyers called whistleblowers truth tellers in his late 80s 3 part series on lying and the media. Truth tellers are rare. I am one and have paid a lifelong price financially as hurting your ability to survive is their absolute punishment of choice and, am fully aware of another as Phil who I totally love and respect. Such people studies show are driven by a deep sense of conviction to honesty, truth, justice etc…its almost genetic – one can’t help oneself. In my case Catholicism has been the fuel. You will never be appreciated in your own time
    and maybe that prevents pride the destroyer setting in but, Phil may also have been so disillusioned as well by the direction the 70s was taking which obviously leads to now. Yes to the comment above – many if not he majority of the 60s generation have exceeded the vile behavior of those they criticised – they tried to ruin my life during the time I was in OSHA trying to perform honest work for the taxpayers and protecting their health. I’m also involved in the performing arts (self employed with my wife – ballet school and company) and had a family late – successful in life so to speak. One must never allow the situations to lead to self destruction as it does to so many souls like Phil Ochs. Evil wins to a great extent and robs you through yourself of your right to experience love and children even if you fail to win the battle. I believe God in His great mercy has Phil close to Him nevertheless for fighting for His truth as well which it greatly was. Keep the faith. Sin is its own punishment. Our present global predicament will come to a successful end but, only after tremendous suffering and purging.

  • Cupertino Jay

    Aww, maan, I love that guy.

    Can’t bring myself to read the rest of the comments right now. Just wanna mention, to other lovers of pain who are stronger than me, that there’s a hardcover bio to be found, for instance on the shelves of the Sunnyvale CA city public library (randomly seen when looking for something else).


  • Cupertino Jay

    Hey Karl G, please notice the streamable HQ video embedded higher up on this same web page.

    Students of Ochs surely oughta check out the fine bio, found at most / many public libraries:
    Schumacher, Michael (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-6084-5

  • maureen gemma

    When I was about 17, I saw Phil Ochs in Providence, RI towards the end of his life when he was barely holding on. He stood alone before a small crowd in a dark cramped downtown bar. He looked puffy and ragged but when he began to sing he transformed and all I could hear was his haunting voice and all I could see was a boyish face filled with hope like the photos on so many of his album covers. When he stopped singing, the magic stopped too. He hunched over the mike and asked if anyone was heading toward NY because he needed a ride home. It was difficult to see such a young, talented beacon of our generation drained of the light.

  • Ed Gilbert

    Just finished watching this online. Was a fan and bystander through all of his career. I was living in NYC (just a block from Central Park) and I wondered WTF I was doing the day of the War is Over gathering in the park. The fact that I didn’t go, not to mention that I can’t even recall the event is one of those mysteries in the dusty attic of my mind. I was, quite sadly, witness to the unfortunate changes leading to Phil’s suicide. Saw him in performance a few times but never spoke with him up close. That is, until the evening I was waiting on line at the Bleecker Street Cinema and Phil (very much wrapped in his alter ego) was going along the line asking if anyone had ever heard of Phil Ochs. Recognizing him (and the state he was in) I grabbed his hand and his shoulder and told him that, “Yes, I’ve heard of you Phil.” He looked at me and said “Naaaa, he doesn’t exist.” He walked away. The news of his death came within a month. That sad period was depicted all too clearly in the footage of him during that time. The film was well done and apparently very evocative for me. I am glad that I learned of its existence while watching the American Masters on Joan Baez (many more memories there).

  • NP

    I didn’t know American Masters had done this documentary and I missed it. Didn’t find out about it till I saw the credits during the Johnny Carson documentary. How’s that for a couple of mismatched personalities? Sitting in front of the computer for an hour and a half to watch it is not comfortable. I too would like to know if it will be rebroadcast.

    I saw Phil Ochs in concert in Central Park, don’t remember what year exactly but it was around 1967. He was a great artist.

    An odd afterthought: I lived in Brooklyn in the ’70s and was riding the bus one day through a black neighborhood. The driver looked like an old reconstituted hippie who’d either “sold out” or more likely just needed to survive, and he’d somehow gotten a civil service job. He was playing a transistor radio, probably tuned to WNEW-FM, and Phil’s song “The Ballad of Medgar Evers” came on. It was unfortunate that the people on the bus were definitely not tuned into this type of music, and an older black woman began complaining, to no one in particular, about having to listen to it, though she obviously was not actually hearing it. Ironic, considering the subject matter. Poor old Phil.

  • bobf

    Regarding “The Strange Death of Phil Ochs,” In the October-December 1976 issue of the now-defunct “Broadside: the topical song magazine,” a founder and longtime editor of that non-profit folk music publication, Gordon Friesen (who died in 1996) , provided U.S. music fans with the following alternative take on the 1960s topical and anti-war protest folk singer-songwriter Phil Ochs’s strange death to that presented in this documentary film. In the Broadsides magazine editor’s view: iI was “indicative of the depth of the brainwashing to which the American people have been systematically subjected that too many of them accept Phil Ochs’ death as a not too uncommon breakdown of a personality. But the accumulated facts raise more than a suspicion that a plot existed leading to his deliberate destruction….When Phil came back to New York last summer [in 1975] he was still full of plans. He was arranging to go to a place in New Jersey for a six-weeks “drying out” period under supervision by medical experts. Then he planned to set up what he called Barricade House, where he would issue a newspaper, record protest singers and make films. He already had the building picked out in SoHo…”

  • country-rocker

    Great documentary! First I heard of this brilliant lad. Wow what a troubled but kind soul he was. Great songs, great storytelling and just all around great! Here’s a quote from a song I wrote just for you Phil….”War is the devil’s darkness portrayed by some to be righteous and glorious, to see people die for power and greed makes me furious leaves me curious, to speak free and protest is in our bill of rights, phil would agree with me and say we were wrong to bomb the baghdad nights.” Peace and love to all. I’m inspired to pick up my guitar and sing now…..thanks Phil. jimmywhitesongs.com

  • David Carl Harrer

    I Ain’t Marching Anymore. Phil Ochs IS an inspiration.

    Peace from New Zealand

  • Lawrence Reilly

    I am fortunate that I got to see Phil perform in a small club about a half hour outside of Phila. Pa. and I still have memories of the concert.Many famous folk artists played there. Saw Leonard Cohen there also. I have recently revisted my interest in Phil and the tragedy of his death feels worse now than when it happened. What an artist and what a beauiful voice.Phil gave his life literally fighting social injustice, war and the unfairness of life caused by politicians. Oh it makes me so so sad that Phil isn’t with us.Glad I found out about this documentary. Very well one but no happy ending in this movie.Phil was such a terrific human being who not only talked the talk but actually walked the walk.Many of his songs bring tears to my eyes not because there sad but because the man who sang and wrote those songs is not with us anymore. A truly great person who gave far more than he received. I love you Phil Ochs,wish you were hear.Peace


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