Pete Hamill, Journalist and Author Who Captured Spirit of New York, Dies at 85

Pete Hamill, perhaps the last of a generation of celebrity newspaperman, has died of heart and kidney failure after undergoing emergency surgery for a fractured right hip. He was 85 and had been in failing health for several years.

Hamill, in columns, profiles, novels, and memoirs, was hailed for his muscular, energetic prose. His writing pulsated with a kind of gritty energy that reflected the urban milieu in which he was born, raised, and later prospered as a writer for New York City’s tabloids. And yet, Hamill was the rare chronicler of city-life who could move seamlessly from courthouses and crime scenes to the Upper East Side salons of movie stars and power brokers (he once dated Jackie Onassis). Hamill was also close to Robert Kennedy and supported him in his run for the presidency — he was on hand when Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and was one of four men who disarmed his killer Sirhan Sirhan.

As a journalist, Hamill worked at the New York Post, the New York Daily News, the Village Voice, and New York Newsday, rising to become editor of the Post and editor-in-chief of the Daily News. Hamill’s books include the novels “A Killing for Christ,” “The Gift”,  “North River,” and “Tabloid City,” as well as the acclaimed memoir “A Drinking Life,” which chronicled his decision to take up and later abandon alcohol.

“Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists,” an HBO documentary that looked at the journalist’s career, as well as that of his sometime rival Jimmy Breslin, premiered in 2018. The film served as an elegy for hard-living, ink-stained reporting that has being swept away by the rise of digital journalism and the collapse of the newspaper industry.

Prominent New Yorkers and media figures praised Hamill’s life and legacy after news broke of his death, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling him “an irreplaceable New Yorker” and New York Times columnist Dan Barry noting, “I once wrote that if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill. Now that city weeps.”

But Hamill would have rejected the notion that he had fully captured what makes the Five Boroughs tick. In an interview with Thirteen, Hamill noted that there’s no writer that has defined New York in the way that Charles Dickens’ novels define the London of his day.

“I thought that probably the best novel in New York was the Daily News,” Hamill said. “If you sat down and read the Daily News from 1919 when it started, to the present, you get some gauge of what we’d gone through. And the reason is because it’s dynamic. The reason is because of its dailiness. There’s a dailiness to life in the city.

Hamill is survived by his wife, journalist Fukiko Aoki, daughters Deirdre and Adriene, and a grandson.

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