Opinion: Remembering Pete Hamill, The Tabloid Man Whose Greatest Story Was His Own NPR's Scott Simon remembers Pete Hamill, former columnist for the New York Post and Daily News, who's memoir A Drinking Life told tough truths. Hamill died this week at the age of 85.
NPR logo

Opinion: Remembering Pete Hamill, The Tabloid Man Whose Greatest Story Was His Own

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/900300042/900432136" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Opinion: Remembering Pete Hamill, The Tabloid Man Whose Greatest Story Was His Own

Opinion: Remembering Pete Hamill, The Tabloid Man Whose Greatest Story Was His Own

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/900300042/900432136" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tab rag scribe makes last deadline.

Pete Hamill was a tabloid man, a columnist and top name on the masthead mostly for the New York Post and Daily News, who wrote punchy, passionate, lyrical chronicles of city life, often for people who had to read them while they held onto a strap standing on the No. 7 train from Queens.

Pete Hamill became a tabloid celebrity on his own, switching in a New York second from rolled-up sleeves and loosened tie on his beat to black tie for evenings out, where he squired - that's a good tabloid verb - Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Shirley MacLaine, Linda Ronstadt and other women of achievement.

But those years in the 1960s and early '70s in which Pete Hamill was making his name and telling stories from neighborhoods the more polite and laureled New York newspapers often overlooked, he also spent too many hours on a bar stool in the kind of places tabloids called watering holes, and with glitterati literati and not enough time with his children.

One night, Pete put down a drink and never picked one up again. Some of you may know how hard that is every day, every hour.

Pete Hamill left high school when he was 15, which is when he began to drink. But in sobriety, he discovered, as he put it, I had gained the time I once spent drinking and the time I needed for recovery, and I began writing as never before. He wrote novels, biographies and screenplays and his column and a 1994 memoir, "A Drinking Life," which is tough, telling, unrelenting and true.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards, Pete Hamill wrote, confidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, solace to the wounded and lonely and, above all, the elusive promises of friendship and love. In the snug darkness of saloons, I learned much about being human and about mastering a craft. I had, as they say, a million laughs. But those grand times also caused great moral, physical or psychological damage to myself and others. I started writing this book when some of my friends from the drinking life began to die. They were decent, talented, generous and humane. But as they approached the end, physically ruined by decades of drinking, I remembered more of their good times than they did. In a way, this book is about them, too.

Pete Hamill died this week, clean, sober and beloved at the age of 85. He put down a drink and found what lasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.