Jimmy Breslin, Chronicler and Wise Guy, Dies

Famed 'NYDN' columnist was 'best person ever to have a column in this business'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 19, 2017 10:47 AM CDT
Jimmy Breslin, Chronicler and Wise Guy, Dies
In this 2004 file photo, author-columnist Jimmy Breslin poses for a photo in his New York apartment.   (AP Photo/Jim Cooper, File)

Jimmy Breslin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicler of wise guys and underdogs who became the brash embodiment of the old-time, street smart New Yorker, died Sunday at 88 of complications of pneumonia, reports the AP. Breslin was a fixture for decades in New York journalism, notably with the New York Daily News. It was Breslin, a rumpled bed of a reporter, who mounted a quixotic political campaign for citywide office in the '60s; who became the Son of Sam's regular correspondent in the '70s; who exposed the city's worst corruption scandal in decades in the '80s; who was pulled from a car and stripped to his underwear by Brooklyn rioters in the '90s. With his sneering Queens accent, Breslin was like a character right out of his own work, and didn't mind telling you. "I'm the best person ever to have a column in this business," he boasted. "There's never been anybody in my league."

Breslin captured the 1986 Pulitzer for commentary and the George Polk Award for metro reporting. With Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe, Breslin helped create "New Journalism"—a more literary approach to news reporting. He was described as "an intellectual disguised as a barroom primitive," in the book City for Sale. In Breslin's own words:

  • The man who dug JFK's grave: "(Clifton) Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. 'Polly, could you please be here by eleven o'clock this morning?' Kawalchik asked. 'I guess you know what it's for.' Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
  • After 9/11: "The streets have been covered with pictures and posters of missing people. The messages on the posters begging for help. Their wife could be in a coma in a hospital. The husband could be wandering the street. Please look. My sister could have stumbled out of the wreckage and taken to a hospital that doesn't know her. Help. Call if you see her. But now it is the ninth day and the beautiful sad hope of the families seems more like denial."
  • David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz sent Breslin several letters and impressed the columnist enough for him to observe: "He's the only killer I ever knew who knew how to use a semicolon."
(Read more Jimmy Breslin stories.)

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