Now, here’s a great lede to a great obit about a great writer.
I give you Dan Barry, who had the unenviable task of writing about Jimmy Breslin and came up with this:
Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88 and, until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.
Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart.
Early on, Mr. Breslin developed the persona of the hard-drinking, dark-humored Everyman from Queens, so consumed by life’s injustices and his six children that he barely had time to comb his wild black mane. While this persona shared a beer with the truth, Mr. Breslin also admired Dostoyevsky; swam every day; hadn’t had a drink in more than 30 years; wrote a shelf-full of books; and adhered to a demanding work ethic that required his presence in the moment, from a civil rights march in Alabama to a “perp walk” in Brooklyn — no matter that he never learned to drive.
Read it all and you’ll discover some gleaming Breslin jewels, as well:
Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:
“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”
And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”
Treat yourself and read it all. And grieve today not only for Jimmy Breslin, but for a kind of writing that you just don’t see anymore. Words and thought have been replaced by images and emojis. Somehow, I don’t think this is an improvement. Rest in peace, Mr. Breslin. And thank you.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…
Photo: Michael Evans/The New York Times