Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist-author Jimmy Breslin, the surly, hard-nosed New Yorker who wrote with the hum and verve of the urban streets from which he came, died on Sunday. He was 88.
Breslin died in his Manhattan home due to complications of pneumonia, his personal physician told the New York Daily News.
With his brash take on Big Apple pols, cops, crooks, and working men and women, Breslin was a fixture in New York journalism for more than 50 years. He spent the bulk of his career with the New York Daily News, but his byline also graced Newsday, the New York Herald Tribune, and the New York Journal American. Breslin made his name during a bygone era of journalism, a time when the city’s tabloids played an outsized role in driving the day’s agenda and were essential reading for power brokers and the powerless alike. Their primacy was supplanted by the rise of digital platforms and the collapse of print advertising, but even as their influence waned, Breslin kept writing.
Breslin maintained a rough-hewn edge, his columns crackled with the language of the barroom, an association that resulted in a brief stint making pitches for Piels Beer on television.
Part of Breslin’s appeal stemmed from the way offered readers an unconventional take on the current events that dominated headlines. As reporters rushed to cover President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, for example, Breslin wrote about the event, its pomp and its sorrow, from the point of view of Clifton Pollard, one of the gravediggers.
In 1977, the infamous so-called Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz, wrote to Breslin, launching a regular correspondence and a series of columns that offered insights to a terrified city.
“The night he got arrested, I walked into the courtroom in Queens and he pointed at me [and] said, ‘There’s Jimmy Breslin, my friend,’ ” Breslin said. “‘What was that? Shoot him,’ I said.”
The writer later played himself in Spike Lee’s 1999 movie “Summer of Sam.” That wasn’t Breslin’s only brush with Hollywood. Director William Friedkin flirted with casting the columnist as Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection” before ultimately handing the Oscar-winning role to Gene Hackman.
Breslin was best known for the ink-stained work he filed on deadline, but he also authored several notable books, including the 1969 novel “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a roman a clef about gangster Joe Gallo that became a 1971 film with Robert De Niro. Other books included an acclaimed biography of newspaperman Damon Runyon, and “The Good Rat,” a look at a gangland informant that was also highly praised.
Breslin is survived by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, four sons, Kevin, James, Patrick and Christopher, as well as a stepson, Daniel Eldridge and two stepdaughters, Emily and Lucy Eldridge. He is predeceased by his first wife, Rosemary, and two daughters, Kelly and Rosemary.