Subhead: “Mr. Breslin, a New York columnist and best-selling author, leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for decades, with prose that was savagely funny and poorly imitated.”
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.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a prominent Democratic politician in Manhattan. Mr. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.
With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:
“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”
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.”
Maybe not just rage:
“Once you get back in the newspapers, it’s like heroin,” Mr. Breslin told The Times. “You’re there. That’s all.”
It’s a good obit. Read the whole thing.
I liked the lede on the New York Daily News story (“Legendary Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin dead at 88“):
Jimmy Breslin was the biggest, the baddest, the brashest, the best columnist in New York City.
And the first to say so, too.
RIP, Jimmy Breslin. This column, written 54 years ago, remains jaw-dropping. https://t.co/aEALfEagTh
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 19, 2017