Jimmy Breslin, the famed New York newspaper columnist who memorialized the stories of regular people like JFK’s gravedigger, has died at the age of 88.
He was also an author, husband, father, grandfather, and, once, was once on a New York mayoral ticket. He was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Breslin’s prose captured the voices of the powerless and overlooked. CBS News called him a chronicler of “wise guys and underdogs.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Breslin Died of Pneumonia
Breslin died on March 19 of pneumonia, according to The New York Daily News, which ran his columns for years. The Daily News called Breslin a “cigar-chomping, hard-nosed newspaperman.”
“Jimmy Breslin was a furious, funny, outrageous and caring voice of the people who made newspaper writing into literature,” said Daily News Editor-in-Chief Arthur Browne in a story by the newspaper.
According to USA Today, Jimmy Breslin was “born in Queens and attended Long Island University but did not graduate. He began his journalism career in the 1950s.”
ABC7 reported that Breslin helped create what was called “New Journalism” – “a more literary approach to news reporting.”
2. Breslin Was Married to a Prominent New York Politician
Jimmy Breslin’s wife is prominent in her own right as a politician in New York City. Ronnie Eldridge, who was married to the famed newspaper columnist, was a city councilwoman.
Eldridge confirmed Breslin’s death on March 19 at the age of 88. He died in his Manhattan home, reported The New York Times.
According to her CUNY TV bio, Eldridge was a former member of the New York City Council from 1989 through 2001.
A Barnard University bio (she graduated there in 1952), says she “sponsored legislation to regulate child care, safeguard ATM users, protect domestic violence victims, and help those who both provided and needed reproductive health care. She also co-chaired the Women and AIDS Project, and served as the first executive director of the Ms. Foundation for Women.”
The Daily Beast reported that Donald Trump called Eldridge a name when she opposed one of his projects. She shared the story on Facebook, writing, “You have to know how crazy things are when I’m so proud of the nasty things someone said about me. I feel I’m bragging and apologize but I just can’t help it.”
The story had said, “Trump built Trump Place after battling New York City lawmakers in the 1980s and 1990s—he called one fierce opponent of the project, councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge, ‘second-rate in just about every way,’ and ‘a woman that doesn’t have a great grasp of finance or anything else.’ When he went through bankruptcy in the 1990s, Trump sold the buildings to Chinese investors, who later sold their stake to the Carlyle Group and Extell Properties.”
3. Breslin Had Many Children, Stepchildren & Grandchildren
Breslin had twelve grandchildren, according to The Huffington Post.
The Associated Press reported that Breslin “had two daughters and four sons with his first wife, Rosemary, who died of cancer in 1981.”
The AP reported that his “elder daughter, Rosemary Breslin, died in 2004 at age 47 from a rare blood disease. His other daughter, Kelly Breslin, collapsed at a New York restaurant in April 2009 and died a few days later. She was 44. Eldridge said an arrhythmia episode was considered a likely cause.”
Breslin’s son, Kevin, wrote on Facebook, “IT IS WITH THE UTMOST SADNESS AND RESPECT FOR A GREAT MAN ,WHO CARED IMMENSELY ABOUT HUMAN BEINGS , JIMMY BRESLIN , FATHER, WRITER, FRIEND, DIED TODAY. HE CARED PASSIONATELY ABOUT LIFE. HE SHARED HIS VALUES THROUGH BRILLIANT WORDS AND A TON OF HUMOR. AND KINDNESS. THANK YOU JB#1”
4. Breslin Was Legendary for His Prose About Regular New Yorkers
The newspaperman was famous for stories of ordinary people. The Huffington Post reported that, in two of his most famous pieces, he “told the story of the New York City cops who retrieved John Lennon’s body moments after he’d been fatally shot” and, in 1963, in The New York Herald Tribune, “he tracked down the cemetery worker tasked with digging President John F. Kennedy’s grave.”
The piece on Lennon ended:
Tony Palma said to himself, I don’t think so. Moran shook his head. He thought about his two kids, who know every one of the Beatles’ big tunes. And Jim Moran and Tony Palma, older now, cops in a world with no fun, stood in the emergency room as John Lennon, whose music they knew, whose music was known everywhere on earth, became another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.
The column on the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave, called “Gravedigger,” was emulated in journalism schools for decades.
As The New York Times put it, Breslin “elevated the powerless for 50 years.”
His last columns for the New York Daily News came in 2012, but he continued writing at times for The Daily Beast, reported Huffington Post.
David Richard Berkowitz, known as the “Son of Sam” serial killer, once famously wrote a letter to Breslin.
5. Breslin Was Also an Author & Ran Into Some Controversy
According to The Huffington Post, Breslin “also authored several lauded books.”
They included “The Church That Forgot Christ, a response to the Catholic Church’s many sex scandals; How the Good Guys Finally Won, a glimpse into the politicians who helped bring down President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal; and a novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”
His life was not without controversy. “After spewing ethnic slurs at a Korean-American co-worker in 1990,” Breslin apologized, according to ABC7.