Tabloid titan Jimmy Breslin — the cigar-chomping, hard-nosed newspaperman who won the Pulitzer Prize for his Daily News’ columns championing ordinary New Yorkers — has died, according to two friends of his family. He was 86.
The cause of death was not immediately released.
The curmudgeonly ink-stained wretch — whose velvety and witty writing style uplifted the downtrodden and eviscerated the scoundrels — crafted scores of columns for The News, Newsday, the New York Herald Tribune and New York Journal American.
For more than 40 years, James Earl Breslin was a newspaper reporter New Yorkers trusted and clamored to read, and other journalists strived to emulate.
Even murderers sought to communicate with him.
In summer of 1977, “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz began corresponding with Breslin, writing from the “gutters of N.Y.C., which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urin, and blood.”
Breslin’s columns for The News on the the Son of Sam’s chilling missives offered insight into the mind of a madman on the loose and left the city gripped in fear.
“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 once recalled. “‘What was that? Shoot him,’ I said.”
Asked in a 2012 interview what he aimed for as a journalist, Breslin replied, “To please a reader: me.”
“I didn’t care about anybody else,” Breslin said. “If I thought it was humorous, if it made me smile, I put it in. I wrote it in the paper and didn’t care what anyone thought.”
Born during the Great Depression into a proud Irish-American family, Breslin was raised in Ozone Park, Queens.
He attended Long Island University from 1948 to 1950. But his real education came in newsrooms filled with cigarette smoke and sometimes bawdy reporters and editors.
While still in school, he landed his first job as a copy editor for the Long Island Press. He later became a sports writer for New York Journal-American.
In 1963, Breslin was hired as a news columnist for the New York Herald tribune and quickly made his mark.
He was sent to cover the funeral of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, and found an angle that eluded other reporters. Breslin’s story about Clifton Pollard, the man who dug the president’s grave is still one of the most talked about stories in journalism history, even used in J-school courses as a prime example of enterprise reporting.
“One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave,” Breslin wrote.
Over the next quarter century Breslin was a scoop machine, scoring exclusives about government corruption and Mafia malfeasance.