Writer Pete Hamill, who wrote a book about All My Children, has passed away. Wasn't the title All Her Children?
Pete Hamill photographed in June 2010. (Watts, Susan / New York Daily News)
Pete Hamill, the Brooklyn-born bard of the five boroughs and eloquent voice of his beloved hometown as both newspaper columnist and best-selling author, died Wednesday morning. He was 85.
Hamill passed away in New York-Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he was taken after a Saturday fall that fractured his right hip, said his brother and fellow ex-Daily News columnist Denis Hamill. His elder sibling underwent emergency surgery, but his heart and kidneys failed four days later in the intensive care unit, said Denis Hamill.
“The truly great Pete Hamill died this morning,” tweeted Dan Barry, columnist at The New York Times. “Newspaperman, novelist, mentor to so many, citizen of the world. I once wrote that if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill. Now that city weeps.”
Clyde Haberman, the Times columnist and a Hamill friend and contemporary, noted on Twitter that “the world just became a far less interesting place.”
Legendary New York icon Pete Hamill
The legendary Hamill worked for three city tabloids, serving as editor for both the Daily News and the New York Post during a newspaper career that covered the last
“One of the best days in my life is when I got my first press pass,” he once recalled fondly. “To be a newspaperman is one of the best educations in the world.”
The lifelong New Yorker brought a touch of poetry to the tabloids, a sense of grace, wit and empathy amid the daily dose of crime and corruption.
The author of more than 20 novels and more than 100 short stories also wrote long pieces on various subjects for The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone and New York magazine.
Hamill continued writing fiction into the new millennium, with “Tabloid City: A Novel” published in May 2011 and a collection titled “The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories” released a year later. He was working on another book titled “Back to the Old Country,” a reminiscence about the role his native Brooklyn played in his life, at the time of his death.
“Pete Hamill told New York’s story for 60 years,” tweeted Jim Dwyer, another former Daily News columnist now at the Times. “His voice rang loudest & truest when the city was in trouble in the 1970s, like the patriots in Casablanca drowning out the Nazis with La Marseillaise. The goodness of his generous heart never ran low. Thanks for all of it. RIP.”
Hamill’s 1960s contemporaries included some of the best writers of his or any generation: Fellow “New Journalism” acolytes Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer.
The son of Belfast immigrants was once hailed as “the greatest chronicler of Irish America,” which hardly did justice to Hamill’s expansive range of topics.
New York Daily News reporter Pete Hamill. (Daily News/New York Daily News)
He proudly described himself as a generalist, as comfortable inside the Blue Room in City Hall as behind the yellow tape at a murder scene.
His attention to telling detail and encyclopedic knowledge informed his efforts on subjects from Frank Sinatra to the Brooklyn Dodgers to his own life in the acclaimed 1994 memoir “A Drinking Life.”
Hamill, once equal parts barroom and newsroom, swore off the booze in 1972 after one last New Year’s Eve vodka.
When asked why, the son of an alcoholic father offered a simple and direct reply: “I have no talent for it.”
His skills showed behind a typewriter or a keyboard, where Hamill wrote more than a million words — the vast majority with one finger taking the pulse of his sprawling city.
Hamill emerged as the city’s erudite everyman, writing about its immigrants, its underclass, its downtrodden and dispossessed.
Author and New York Daily News columnist Pete Hamill is seen in New York, Nov. 17, 1977. (CARLOS RENE PEREZ/AP)
The native son was a constant witness to history: As a kid watching Jackie Robinson in Ebbets Field, decades later walking with Robert F. Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel when an assassin opened fired, and again on 9/11 in the shadows of the Twin Towers.
Hamill recounted writing a heartfelt letter that convinced RFK to run for president. When the shooting started in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, he helped disarm killer Sirhan Sirhan as the mortally wounded Kennedy lay nearby.
“My notes told me later that Kennedy was shot at 12:10, and was carried out of that grubby kitchen at 12:32,” he wrote 40 years later. “It seemed a lot longer.”
He went south to cover Martin Luther King, and stayed home for the last interview with fellow New Yorker John Lennon. He reported on “The Troubles” in his ancestral homeland, and covered wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua and Lebanon.
Hamill stood in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, with paper and pen in hand as the World Trade Center’s 110 stories came tumbling down.
That day, he wrapped up the novel “Forever” — later rewritten to reflect the staggering horrors inflicted on his city. Hamill, even after becoming a celebrity and a celebrated author, remained a newspaperman at heart.
He joined the tabloid New York Post in 1960 before moving to the New York Herald Tribune, the Daily News, New York Newsday and the Village Voice.
Pete Hamill takes notes as he walks ahead of the Memphis-to-Jackson march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. June 9, 1966. (Anonymous/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Though he stayed for long stretches in Dublin, Barcelona, Mexico City, Los Angeles and Santa Fe, N.M., he inevitably returned to his eternal muse: The ever-changing city of his birth.
“There’s no one New York,” Hamill said in 2007. “There’s multiple New Yorks. Anybody who sits and says ‘I know New York’ is from out of town.”
The oldest of seven children, Hamill was a high-school dropout whose first newspaper job was delivering the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
His youth in Brooklyn, living on the top floor of a crowded $60-a-month Park Slope apartment, forever influenced his nuanced storytelling.
Hamill, in his book “Downtown: My Manhattan,” recounted the day his mother walked him onto the Brooklyn Bridge as the city skyline shimmered in the morning sun.
Norman Mailer, Pete Hamill, and Bill Bell review books in the 33rd Street newsroom at the New York Daily News in 1997. (Bonifacio, Mark/for New York Daily News)
“Sure, you remember Peter,” his mom told the awestruck lad. “You’ve seen it before. It’s Oz.”
“And so it was, no matter how hard I tried to escape,” he wrote.
Before turning to newspapers, Hamill longed to become a cartoonist and attended night classes at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in the ’50s.
His Brooklyn upbringing fomented a lifelong hatred of Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who moved Hamill’s beloved Bums to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
Hamill and reporter pal Jack Newfield once compared notes on the three worst people of the 20th century, and produced matching lists: Hitler. Stalin. O’Malley.
The U.S. Navy veteran joined the Post in 1960, just prior to a crippling strike of the city’s seven newspapers that set his star in ascent.
Columnist Pete Hamill and actress Shirley MacLaine arrive for the Academy Awards, in Hollywood in 1974. (Bettmann/Bettmann Archive)
The suddenly-idled reporter left Manhattan for Spain before landing a job as European correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post.
He and his father Billy were in Belfast when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
When Hamill returned to the states, he landed a column with the Post in the fall of 1965 — and was on his way to Vietnam before Christmas. He soon became a habitue of the famous East Side hangout Elaine’s, and a regular at the legendary Lion’s Head — where the hard-drinking authors’ book jackets served as wallpaper.
His own first novel, “A Killing for Christ,” appeared in 1968 — the tale of a plot to assassinate the Pope.
Hamill, in between two marriages, also found time to date a number of celebrity stunners: Shirley MacLaine, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Linda Ronstadt.
MacLaine turned up in his warts-and-all memoir, which was credited by author Frank McCourt as the inspiration to finish his own “Angela’s Ashes.”
Hamill was hired in 1996 as the editor of The Daily News, where he became a staff favorite before leaving after just eight months. He also spent a tumultuous month in 1993 as head of the New York Post, leading an insurrection against loony new owner Abe Hirschfeld.
“WHO IS THIS NUT?” one edition asked on page one. Hamill’s apartment was later decorated with a photograph of Hirschfeld planting a sloppy smooch on his cheek.
“The Kiss of the Spider-Man,” he once deadpanned.
Veteran journalist Pete Hamill, left, the New York Post's "former" editor-in-chief informally fired by eccentric new owner of the paper, Abe Hirschfeld, returns to his office at the Post to fulfill his editorial responsibilities, March 16, 1993. With him on the phone at right is Peter Faris. (Betsy Herzog/AP)
At both stops, and for years after, Hamill was generous with his time and tips for any young writers inclined to ask.
One of Hamill’s best one-liners was reserved for one-time Post colleague and hell-raising columnist Steve Dunleavy.
The notorious Dunleavy suffered a broken foot when clipped by a plow during a sexual liaison in a snow bank, leading Hamill to memorably declare, “I hope it wasn’t his writing foot.”
The oft-honored Hamill received the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for Arts and Letters in February 2014 and a career achievement Polk Award later that year.
Daily News columnist and best-selling author Pete Hamill in 2002. (Susan Watts/New York Daily News)
He became a distinguished writer in residence at New York University. And he managed to snag a Grammy Award with his liner notes for the classic Bob Dylan album “Blood on the Tracks.”