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Sen. Ron Wyden: 'He Was Constantly Afraid'

Brothers Jeffrey and Ron Wyden in 1960. Ron Wyden says his brother began to withdraw as a teenager.

Brothers Jeffrey and Ron Wyden in 1960. Ron Wyden says his brother began to withdraw as a teenager.

When U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden talks about gun control or mental health issues, he sometimes mentions his younger brother, Jeffrey.

That happened after the massacre of dozens of people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year. After the attack, Democratic senators filibustered for stricter gun control measures. Wyden joined the filibuster, and he got personal.

Backstory: Defining Moments

This conversation is part of an occasional series about the pivotal moments that shape the lives of people in the public eye. If there’s someone whose story you want to hear, write to us at and put “Backstory” in the subject line.

Part 1: Then The Ladder Slipped: Oregon State Rep. Diego Hernandez
Part 2: Sen. Ron Wyden: ‘He Was Constantly Afraid.’
Part 3: Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly And ‘The Bad Tenant Story’
Part 4: Oregon’s Secretary Of State On Faith, Race And Same-Sex Marriage

“My late brother suffered from serious mental illness,” he said. “Not a day went by — not a day went by — when I wasn’t worried that my brother, who was a schizophrenic, would be out on the streets, and he would either hurt himself, or he’d hurt somebody else.”

Jeffrey Wyden struggled with his schizophrenia for decades. There were periods of hope and periods of despair. He died in 2002 at age 51.

His brother, now Oregon’s senior senator, carries the memory of those years with him, and they inform his policy decisions. To hear their story, click on the audio player above.

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