By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Jaime Bayly Letts was born in Lima in February 1965, the third of ten children. His father, Jaime Bayly Llona, attended college in London but returned to Peru to work as an executive at his father's bank. Later, Grandfather Bayly gave his son's family a mansion with domestic servants and vast manicured gardens in a tony suburb of Lima called Los Cóndores. It was about as distant a setting as you could find from the cramped, dirty callejones of downtown Lima where little Jaime would eventually find himself. But the beautiful landscaping hid a divided family. Jaime's father and grandfather shared a frigid relationship.
Jaime's family mostly declined to speak with New Times for this article. For his part, the talk-show host remembers his childhood as a bitter standoff with his distant father. They interacted, he recalls, mostly when Jaime Sr. would punish little Jaime for no apparent reason. After any impropriety, the father would call the boy into the bedroom and order him to strip naked. Then he would lash his backside with the end of a leather belt until it bled.
"It wasn't until years later, when I had grown up, that I remembered that and thought: 'What the fuck? That is a very strange way of punishing your son,' " Bayly recalls. "My father had a comfortable, even luxurious life, but demons and phantoms were eating at his soul."
Bayly's mother, Doris Letts, came from an equally wealthy and widely respected family. Her brother, Roberto, became a millionaire mine owner. But Letts never went to college, instead marrying Jaime Sr. when she was 21 years old. She became a stay-at-home mother but was almost as aloof as her husband. A member of Opus Dei, an ultraconservative Catholic organization, she would come to Jaime's room and pray with him every morning before school. When she suffered a miscarriage while Jaime was a toddler, she grew more fanatically Christian.
By age 13, Jaime could barely stand to be around his dad. One night, fearing another brutal beating, he sneaked into his parents' room and grabbed a handful of golden necklaces and crucifixes. Then he shoved them into a backpack along with some extra clothes and slipped out. He made his way to downtown Lima, where he walked the dimly lit streets and pawned his mother's jewelry for a fraction of its worth. Then he visited several seedy hotels that denied him boarding until he finally bribed a young woman to give him a key.
The cash lasted only a week, and he returned home. But the boy escaped twice more until, finally, his mother sent him to live with her parents across town when Bayly was 15.
Around the same time, Letts arranged for him to work after school at Lima's second-largest daily newspaper, La Prensa. The next three years were a golden age for both journalism in Peru and Bayly. In 1980, much of the press was returned to private ownership after more than a decade of military dictatorship. Staffs expanded, and Bayly quickly graduated from filing clippings to writing sports and economics stories. But the teen was best when picking apart Peruvian politicians. By age 17, he had his own weekly political column, called "Banderillas" — named for the darts bullfighters thrust into their oversized victims.
"From the moment he arrived, he was spectacular," remembers Federico Salazar, a colleague at La Prensa. The boy was quiet and respectful with colleagues but a fearless reporter who once jumped into a famous economist's car to get an exclusive interview. In the evenings, as editors prepared proofs of the mornings' papers, Salazar, Bayly, and the rest of the newsroom would go out for drinks. Those were fleeting moments of true happiness before fame closed in around him.
After a year of "Banderillas," the upstart journalist received a call from Genaro Delgado Parker, owner of Canal 5, one of Lima's most popular TV stations. He asked the then-18-year-old to appear as a panelist on a nightly program called Pulse. Bayly was perfect: tall and handsome, brilliant and irreverent. He soon had his own nightly show, and strangers began to recognize him on the street. They called him "el niño terrible."
With fame came money, drugs, and casual sex with men and women, Bayly recalls. Soon, he was snorting so much Peruvian blow that sleep wouldn't come for two or three days. His habit worsened when he also took a TV job in the Dominican Republic, jetting frantically back and forth between Lima and Santo Domingo every two weeks to tape the two shows.
Finally, after a Sunday spent coked out of his mind watching Italian soccer in his Lima apartment, Bayly dialed his parents' house just before midnight. His father answered.
"Dad, I... I'm thinking of killing myself," Bayly recalls saying while staring out over his balcony.
"This is no time to be calling the house," his father answered before hanging up.
"That's when I realized that I was actually doing exactly what my father wanted me to do: destroy myself," Bayly says. "I decided I wasn't going to be his drug-addicted son."
Just as Bayly was kicking his cocaine habit, a previously unknown math professor named Alberto Fujimori won the 1990 presidential election in Peru. For two years, Bayly ripped the populist on national television. But when Fujimori suddenly dissolved Peru's congress, courts, and constitution in 1992, a friend warned Bayly that his name was on a list of journalists who were already being rounded up and thrown in jail. The fearless journalist caught the first flight to Madrid.