UPDATE 11:30 with more information throughout.
Jimmy Breslin, the influential, combative and often-imitated New York City newspaper journalist, died today at 88. His death was reported in his longtime berth, the New York Daily News. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.
Breslin, who also wrote novels and non-fiction books, will be remembered for giving voice to working-class New Yorkers through his Daily News and Newsday columns. Along with writers including Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, Breslin was in on the ground floor of what would be called the New Journalism – non-fiction writing that employed the devices of narrative fiction to add drama and authorial point-of-view to reporting. Breslin won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986, and the George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting in 1985.
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His career in journalism took off from the sportswriting department of the New York Journal American, when he wrote what would become a classic account of the first season of New York’s National League replacement for the departed Brooklyn Dodgers, the Metropolitans. The bumbling Mets all took it on the chin from Breslin in Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game? That was followed a few years later with his Mafia satire, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, which was adapted as a film featuring a young Robert De Niro. His more serious novels included the well-received Table Money and World Without End, Amen.
In 1986, Breslin attempted an early foray into reality TV with Jimmy Breslin’s People, an ABC late-night show that was canceled after three months.
In a move that complemented his gift for satire, Breslin in 1969 teamed up with novelist and journalist Norman Mailer in a run for public office that garnered more reporters than votes. With Mailer on the ticket for Mayor and Breslin running for City Council President, their platform’s sole plank was a promise to make New York City “the 51st state.” Summing up the quixotic campaign, he later said, “I am mortified to have taken part in a process that required bars to be closed.”
Like Chicago’s Mike Royko, Breslin wrote in a contentious, common-man style, an approach that fell in and out of favor over the decades. In 1977, Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz addressed a letter to him, a missive subsequently published in the Daily News and later used in Spike Lee’s 1999 Summer of Sam film, in which Breslin played himself. Breslin’s correspondence was later criticized by at least one FBI agent as “baiting” the killer.
Breslin’s high profile as a tough-talking crusader was solidified by his many appearances on TV talk shows dating back to the ’60s-ear Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show, among many others. He even hosted Saturday Night Live in 1986.
He is survived by wife Ronnie Eldridge, four children, three stepchildren and twelve grandchildren.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio called Breslin’s wit and dedication to the truth “unmatched” in journalism.
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