The hard-nosed, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jimmy Breslin passed Sunday morning. He was 88.
According to Breslin’s physician, the cause of death was due to complications from pneumonia.
Breslin was hospitalized last Wednesday with pneumonia but left the next night, his doctor William Cole told The News.
His death came “suddenly,” Cole said. “He was somewhat debilitated, but he was till the same old Jimmy Breslin right up until the end: Cantankerous, difficult, funny, opinionated. And he was writing.”
“Jimmy Breslin was a furious, funny, outrageous and caring voice of the people who made newspaper writing into literature,” Daily News Editor-in-Chief Arthur Browne said.
Breslin’s last column for the Daily News ran in 2012; last year, The Daily Beast began running new writing from Breslin after years of re-publishing his classic columns in The Best of Breslin.
“There’s all this talk now of American greatness — he spent his life looking for true American greatness,” former News columnist Michael Daly said. “If you want to know American greatness, go back and read all the work that Jimmy wrote.”
Throughout his career, Breslin found fame for his creative portrayals of ordinary New Yorkers. In 1980, Breslin told the unforgettable story of the New York City cops who retrieved John Lennon’s body just moments after he’d been fatally shot. In 1963, The New York Herald Tribune published Breslin’s column on Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John. F. Kennedy’s grave – Breslin’s gravedigger piece set the bar for journalism, and will forever remind us of the importance of journalistic storytelling.
“[I]t showed how a writer can break away from the crowd, even on the biggest possible story; how, in the words of the great editor Gene Roberts, an enterprising reporter can zig when everyone else zags,” the Poynter Institute for Media Studies wrote.
Breslin received several awards for his writing, most notably the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986.
“What’s wrong with journalists today? They don’t go out,” Breslin said in a 2015 interview with the City University of New York TV station. “Television would be your answer. They’re all on television giving the news. As you listen to them talk, you know they haven’t left the office. They have no authentic spirit to the voice as they’re telling you what happened in New York, because they don’t know and they don’t bother with it.”
New Yorkers trusted Breslin, journalists admired him, and even murderers sought to communicate with him.
In 1977, David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” serial killer, began corresponding with Breslin, writing from the “gutters of N.Y.C., which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood.”
James Earl Breslin also authored quite a few critically acclaimed books, including “The Church That Forgot Christ,” “How the Good Guys Finally Won,” and “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”
So long Jimmy Breslin. Thanks for telling this story and so many others. pic.twitter.com/qUwi9XxY1S— Michael Roston (@michaelroston) March 19, 2017
Breslin’s chilling columns offered insight into the mind of a madman and left the city shaking in fear.
“The night he got arrested, I walked into the courtroom in Queens and he pointed at me (and) said, ‘There’s Jimmy Breslin, my friend,'” Breslin once recalled. “‘What was that? Shoot him,’ I said.”
When asked what he aimed for as a journalist, Breslin replied, “To please a reader: me.”
“I didn’t care about anybody else,” Breslin said in a 2012 interview. “If I thought it was humorous, if it made me smile, I put it in. I wrote it in the paper and didn’t care what anyone thought.”
Breslin is survived by his wife Ronnie Eldridge, four children, three stepchildren and twelve grandchildren.
[Featured Image by Ray Stubblebine/AP Images]