By Ray O’Hanlon
The world of journalism and books, and the world generally, has lost a champion of truth with the death of Pete Hamill at the age of 85.
Over a career spanning six decades Hamill, a son of Brooklyn with his Irish family roots in Belfast, would become a hero and model for journalism students everywhere.
And given the business he was in, Hamill would be both a formidable champion for those less able to defend themselves, and a foe of those who oppressed the less able.
Hamill’s power with words was virtually unrivaled. In his hands tabloid lines turned into poetry be they sentimental and sympathetic, critical and biting.
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Hamill was, in the eyes of many, Irish America’s Bard. He was also widely hailed as the “Bard of the Five Boroughs.”
The Irish Echo recognized both Hamill’s Irish roots and his lifelong work by naming him Irish American of the Year.
Hamill was the eldest of seven children of Irish immigrant parents from Belfast. He grew up in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn.
He reported from a number of countries around the world during his long career in newspapers but is most closely associated with his work at two of the city’s famous tabloid dailies, the Daily News and New York Post, which he first joined in 1960.
He also wrote for New York Newsday, the New York Herald Tribune, the Village Voice and a range of leading magazines.
The author of a number of acclaimed books, including the autobiographical “A Drinking Life,” and the novel “Forever,” Hamill was viewed by many as one of the ultimate experts on the world’s ultimate city.
His fiction work, “Tabloid City,” spoke of his home town but a lesser known work, carried out in conjunction with other members of his family, and privately published, was entitled “Anne Devlin Hamill – An Irish-American Odyssey,” and tells the life story of the Hamill family matriarch, Anne Devlin from Belfast.
Hamill, the father of two daughters, lived in Manhattan with his wife, the writer Fukiko Aoki, but in more recent years the couple moved across the Brooklyn Bridge and back into “Hamill Country.”
According to the Daily News, Hamill passed away in New York-Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital where he was taken after a Saturday fall that fractured his right hip, this according to his brother and fellow Daily News columnist Denis Hamill.
Hamill underwent emergency surgery, but his heart and kidneys failed and he died Wednesday morning in the intensive care unit, said Denis Hamill.
Tributes quickly began to flow, and flow quickly, as if on deadline.
As the Daily News reported: “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, New York Times columnist and a Hamill friend and contemporary, noted on Twitter that “the world just became a far less interesting place.”
“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.”
“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.”
The News report stated that Hamill’s 1960s contemporaries included some of the best writers of his or any generation. They included “New Journalism” standouts such as Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer.