In 1977 Colby founded a D.C. law firm—Colby, Miller & Hanes, with Marshall Miller, David Hanes, and associated lawyers, and worked on public policy issues. In consonance with his long-held liberal views, Colby became a supporter of the nuclear freeze and of reductions in military spending. He practiced law and advised various bodies on intelligence matters. He also wrote two books, one of memoirs entitled Honorable Men, the other on Vietnam, called Lost Victory. In the latter, Colby argued that the U.S.–RVN counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam had succeeded by the early 1970s and that South Vietnam could have survived had the U.S. continued to provide support after the Paris Accords. Though the topic remains open and controversial, some recent scholarship, including by Lewis “Bob” Sorley, supports Colby’s arguments. Colby also lent his expertise and knowledge, along with Oleg Kalugin, to the Activision game Spycraft: The Great Game, which was released shortly before his death. Both Colby and Kalugin played themselves in the game.
William E. Colby was a member of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns. His name appears on a note to Senator John Heinz dated July 5 1989 as a “National Sponsor”.
On April 27, 1996, Colby set out from his weekend home in Rock Point, Maryland on a solo canoe trip. His canoe was found the following day on a sandbar in the Wicomico River, a tributary of the Potomac, approximately a quarter mile from his home. On May 6, Colby’s body was found in a marshy riverbank lying facedown not far from where his canoe was found. After an autopsy, Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner John E. Smialek ruled his death to be accidental. Smialek’s report noted that Colby was predisposed to having a heart attack or stroke due to “severe calcified atherosclerosis” and that Colby likely “suffered a complication of this atherosclerosis which precipitated him into the cold water in a debilitated state and he succumbed to the effects of hypothermia and drowned”.
Colby’s death triggered conspiracy theories that his death was due to foul play. In his 2011 documentary The Man Nobody Knew, Colby’s son Carl suggested that his father suffered from guilt due to his actions in the CIA and committed suicide. Carl’s step-mother and siblings, as well as Colby’s biographer Randall Woods, criticized Carl’s portrayal of William Colby, and rejected the allegation that the former CIA director killed himself as inconsistent with his character.
Colby was the subject of a biography, Lost Crusader, by John Prados, published in 2003. His son, Carl Colby, released a documentary on his father’s professional and personal life, The Man Nobody Knew, in 2011. In May 2013, Randall B. Woods, Distinguished Professor of History at the J. William Fulbright School at the University of Arkansas, published his biography of Colby, titled Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA. Norwich University hosts an annual writers symposium named in his honor.
Colby, William (1975). Intelligence and the press: Address to the Associated Press annual meeting by William E. Colby on Monday, 7 April 1975. CIA.
Colby, William (1975). Foreign intelligence for America: Address to the Commonwealth Club of California by William E. Colby on Wednesday, 7 May 1975 in San Francisco, California. CIA (1975).
Colby, William (1975). Director of Central Intelligence press conference: CIA Headquarters auditorium, 19 November 1975. CIA.
Colby, William (1978). Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (first ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-22875-0.
Colby, William (1986). The increased role of modern intelligence: A public speech on February 21, 1986 in Taipei. AWI lectures. Asia and World Institute.
Colby, William (1989). Lost victory: a firsthand account of America’s sixteen-year involvement in Vietnam. Chicago: Contemporary Books. ISBN 0809245094. OCLC 20014837.