An intellectual disguised as a barroom primitive
March 19, 2017 11:09 PM   Subscribe

Jimmy Breslin, Pulitzer-winning New York City newspaper columnist, dies at 88.

The New York Times: 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. [...] Love or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. He often explained that he merely applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker. This is how you find your gravedigger."

Known, most famously, for his profile of the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Breslin was a co-founder of the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s. Along with his columns, Breslin was a prolific novelist and biographer, but it was his books that focused on the ordinary working people found in his newspaper pieces that drew the most praise.

Newsday: Breslin’s 2002 book, “The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez,” used the death of an undocumented construction worker to expose shoddy worksite regulation and racism in New York. His book on the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal of recent years, “The Church That Forgot Christ,” included a blistering critique of how Irish-Americans looked the other way while clergymen assaulted children.

Breslin could also be ill tempered, brusque and vicious. Several years after winning the Pulitzer Prize “for columns which consistently champion ordinary citizens” he was suspended by Newsday for attacking a female Asian-American reporter in a racist rant after she called one of his columns sexist.

Newsday: Photos of Jimmy Breslin, Pulitzer-winner and ex-Newsday columnist
Chicago Tribune: Jimmy Breslin, chronicler of wise guys and underdogs, dies
The New Yorker: Postscript: Jimmy Breslin

Breslin previously: The Whole Run of Crime, Jimmy Breslin's Last Column
posted by not_the_water (31 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

I got his book "I Want To Thank My Brain For Remembering Me" when I was young. It's about his experiences after surviving a stroke. I'm glad he survived that stroke and lived the long life that he did.
posted by Sleeper at 12:33 AM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Everyone goes but few leave as much behind as Breslin...

posted by jim in austin at 12:39 AM on March 20, 2017

O (“Power to the neighborhood.”)
Hadn’t thought about him for years, but at his peak he was way up there on top of the ‘ink-stained wretch’ heap. A leader of the gang that wouldn’t write straight, and hero to a lot of us who sat at our typewriters for hours on end.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:42 AM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by From Bklyn at 1:48 AM on March 20, 2017

• He was a genuinely good guy.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:10 AM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by Cash4Lead at 3:27 AM on March 20, 2017

posted by Gelatin at 4:10 AM on March 20, 2017


Why am I getting so old ?
posted by Sphinx at 4:19 AM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 5:04 AM on March 20, 2017

posted by allthinky at 5:29 AM on March 20, 2017

Two things: first, to me, Breslin and Studs Terkel were a pair of the very best of American voices.

Second, if you haven't read Breslin's 1969 (?) comic crime novel "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," I urge you to treat yourself to it in his honor. It's a trifle when compare to Breslin's usual stuff, but it's great fun for the details that could only come from someone with keen eyes who was close to the New York organized crime scene.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:35 AM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've never read that piece about the Arlington grave-digger before. Wow.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:40 AM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by drezdn at 6:23 AM on March 20, 2017

To me, Jimmy Breslin was New York. Pugnacious, always fighting, one of the millions of underdogs living in a city of wealth. A saint on nicotine, a slump-shouldered sinner. The city never sleeps because even with its eyes closed, it is dreaming of itself, bigger and more brazen. I won't say Rest in Peace, because I don't think he'd enjoy peace. But take a break, Jimmy, you've earned it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:29 AM on March 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

posted by droplet at 6:30 AM on March 20, 2017

posted by lalochezia at 7:37 AM on March 20, 2017

He's the source of one of the greatest insults ever, re Rudy Giuliani: "He's a small man in search of a balcony." RIP.
posted by holborne at 7:51 AM on March 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm divided. On one hand, great journalist, on the other, his attack on Ji-Yeon Yuh for calling him out was grotesque.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:54 AM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

A true heavy New York water buffalo. RIP

posted by dbiedny at 8:02 AM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by oneironaut at 8:20 AM on March 20, 2017

posted by KingEdRa at 8:48 AM on March 20, 2017

posted by Atom Eyes at 8:52 AM on March 20, 2017

Born and raised NYer who always thought Breslin's columns were more miss than hit, but when he hit, he hit big. I guess that is what makes a good columnist, one who generates discussion, good or bad.
posted by AugustWest at 8:57 AM on March 20, 2017

An amazing journalist; I'm sorry he's gone (but maybe he couldn't stand living in the age of Trump).

posted by languagehat at 9:16 AM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:17 AM on March 20, 2017

Personally, it's upsetting to me to see so much celebration for this guy. I think it's worth mentioning how ugly his rant was.

“The fucking bitch doesn’t know her place. She’s a little dog, a little cur running along the street. She’s a yellow cur. Let’s make it racial. She’s a slant-eyed cunt.”
posted by Borborygmus at 9:23 AM on March 20, 2017 [13 favorites]

He used to frequent a restaurant I worked as. A genuinely friendly guy.

posted by Splunge at 10:21 AM on March 20, 2017

"Well, let’s just say I’m really just not a big fan of Jimmy Breslin."
"Well, he’s the reason I became a writer, but that’s not important."
posted by Melismata at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

He was NYC, both the good and the bad.
posted by tommasz at 1:12 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by herda05 at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2017

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