VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Author-columnist Jimmy Breslin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicler of wise guys and underdogs who became the brash embodiment of the old-time, street smart New Yorker, died Sunday. He was 88.
Breslin died at his Manhattan home of complications from pneumonia, his stepdaughter, Emily Eldridge, said.
Breslin was a fixture for decades in New York journalism, notably with the New York Daily News. It was Breslin, a rumpled bed of a reporter, who mounted a quixotic political campaign for citywide office in the '60s; who became the Son of Sam's regular correspondent in the '70s; who exposed the city's worst corruption scandal in decades in the '80s; who was pulled from a car and stripped to his underwear by Brooklyn rioters in the '90s. With his uncombed mop of hair and sneering Queens accent, Breslin was like a character right out of his own work, and didn't mind telling you.
"I'm the best person ever to have a column in this business," he once boasted. "There's never been anybody in my league."
With typical disregard for authority, Breslin once took out a newspaper ad to "fire" the ABC television network when it aired his short-lived TV show in a lousy time slot. That same year, he captured the 1986 Pulitzer for commentary and the George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting. More than 20 years earlier, with Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe, Breslin had helped create "New Journalism" — a more literary approach to news reporting.
He was an acclaimed author, too, moving easily between genres. "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" was his comic chronicle of the Brooklyn mob, "Damon Runyon: A Life" was an account of his spiritual predecessor, "I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me" was a memoir.
Breslin was to Queens Boulevard what Runyon was to Broadway — columnist, confessor and town crier, from the Pastrami King to Red McGuire's saloon. He reveled in the borough, even as he moved far beyond it.
"Breslin is an intellectual disguised as a barroom primitive," wrote Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett in their book "City for Sale."
The eccentric, entertaining Breslin acknowledged he was prone to fits of pique and a bad temper. After spewing ethnic slurs at a Korean-American co-worker in 1990, Breslin apologized by writing, "I am no good and once again I can prove it."
But the Pulitzer committee, in citing Breslin's commentary, noted that his columns "consistently championed ordinary citizens." The winning pieces exposed police torture in a Queens precinct, and took a sympathetic look at the life of an AIDS patient.
A few days after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, he wrote of the dwindling hopes for the families.
"The streets have been covered with pictures and posters of missing people," he wrote. "The messages on the posters begging for help. Their wife could be in a coma in a hospital. The husband could be wandering the street. Please look. My sister could have stumbled out of the wreckage and taken to a hospital that doesn't know her. Help. Call if you see her. But now it is the ninth day and the beautiful sad hope of the families seems more like denial."