Legendary NY newspaperman and writer Pete Hamill passed away today, at the age of 85.
He had health issues in recent years, and had complications from recent medical treatment.
Pete was someone I knew, albeit not well.
In the period of the end of the 60s into 1971 I would sometimes hang out at the Lion’s Head, a well-known drinkery on Christopher Street in the Village. That was Pete’s hangout as well.
In addition, for a while I lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn, just down the hill from Prospect Park. Pete lived a couple of blocks away, and occasionally I would encounter him there as well.
Pete was a high school drop out, from a working class family, both his parents having immigrated from Belfast. He had worked in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard before himself going into the Navy. He later studied art both in Mexico and in NY. He talked his way into his first newspaper job with no experience. Later in life he would edit both the NY Post and the NY Daily News, getting kicked out of both positions, from the Post finally by Rupert Murdoch and from the News by Mort Zuckerman, both of which to many of us were considered badges of honor on his part. He also wrote for the Village Voice, for Newsday, The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone ….
When I got to know him, the Lion’s Head was a fascinating place, full of both literary and political types. Hamill introduced light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres to the other patrons, including the literati. Before formally a newspaperman Hamill had written a piece about Torres for a Greek newspaper. I can remember having multiple conversations with Beat era poet Joel Oppenheimer. And I can remember the bar coming to a halt when Nixon would do an address from the Oval, with the bitingly sarcastic commentary afterward.
Pete Hamill wrote books. He won a Grammy — for his liner notes for an album by Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks. He wrote novels, and non-fiction as well as hundreds of columns. In between his marriages he dated the likes of Jackie Kennedy (not yet Onassis), Linda Ronstadt, …. He won multiple awards for his writing.
He was very political, perhaps best illustrated by his being close by (along with pro football legend Roosevelt Grier) when Sirhan Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy.
If you don’t know his writing, do yourself a favor and explore it.
Even when he associated with celebrities, he never forgot from where he came.
He was very much a creature of Brooklyn.
Let me share two NY Times pieces about him.
This (from a few years ago)
and This (his obituary)
I have several of his books.
I will take some time to honor him by reading some of the words he wrote.