Pete Hamill, legendary New York columnist, has died

Pete Hamill, legendary New York columnist, has died

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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NEW YORK (AP) — Pete Hamill, the self-taught, street-wise newspaper columnist whose love affair with New York inspired a colorful and uniquely influential journalistic career and produced several books of fiction and nonfiction, died Wednesday morning. He was 85.

Hamill died at a Brooklyn hospital from heart and kidney failure, his brother Denis confirmed in an email.

"Pete was truly one of the good guys," Denis Hamill said.

Pete Hamill was one of the city's last great crusading columnists and links to journalism's days of chattering typewriters and smoked-filled banter, an Irish-American both tough and sentimental who related to the underdog and mingled with the elite. Well-read, well-rounded and very well connected, Hamill was at ease quoting poetry and Ernest Hemingway, dating Jacqueline Onassis or enjoying a drink and a cigarette at the old Lion's Head tavern in Greenwich Village.

His topics ranged from baseball, politics, murders, boxing and riots to wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Ireland. But he would always look back to the New York he grew up in, a pre-digital age best remembered through the dreamscape of black and white photography — a New York of egg creams and five-cent subway rides, stickball games and wide-brimmed hats, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and there were more daily papers than you could count on one hand.

"I have the native son's irrational love of the place," Hamill wrote in his 2004 book, "Downtown: My Manhattan." "New York is a city of daily irritations, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, and huge dollops of pure beauty."

A Brooklyn-born high school dropout, Hamill was a columnist for the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Newsday, the Village Voice, New York magazine and Esquire. He wrote screenplays, several novels and a bestselling memoir, "A Drinking Life".

"Pete Hamill was an inspiration to generations of reporters who reveled in his unique style of storytelling and his gifts as a writer and reporter who spoke truth to power," the New York Press Club said in a statement.

His 2003 novel, "Forever", told the story of Cormac O'Connor, an Irish Jew who arrives in New York in 1740 and is granted eternal life as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan. His novels "Snow in August" and "The North River" also served up nostalgic and critically acclaimed tales of Old New York.

His memoir covers his childhood in Brooklyn to the night he gave up drinking at a New Year's Eve party in 1972.

"Pete was a giant of journalism, a quintessential New Yorker and a personal friend to my father and myself," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "I learned much from him and he inspired me. Pete's death is going to leave a hole in the heart of New Yorkers."

Hamill had a brief and disheartening turn editing the New York Post. When financier Steven Hoffenberg gained control of the tabloid in bankruptcy proceedings, he hired Hamill as editor in chief in 1993. Hamill quickly hired four Black reporters and promoted a number of women and minorities, recalled fellow columnist Jack Newfield in his memoir, "Somebody's Gotta Tell It."

But when Hoffenberg was unable to buy the paper, ownership fell to Abe Hirschfeld, who fired Hamill. The paper's staff revolted, publishing a mutiny edition that kept Hamill's name on the masthead as he supervised from a nearby diner. Hirschfeld rehired Hamill, giving him a kiss that the hardened newsman called "the single most ignominious moment of my life."

Rupert Murdoch eventually purchased the paper, leading to Hamill's dismissal. A few years later, Hamill spent a short stint as editor-in-chief of the Post's archrival, the New York Daily News. He also worked for a few months in 1987 as editor of The Mexico City News.

Born William Peter Hamill on June 24, 1935, he was the oldest of seven children of immigrants from Northern Ireland. His brother Denis Hamill is a novelist and columnist for the Daily News. He has two daughters, Adrienne and Deirdre.


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